Friday, April 30, 2010

Damn Preachers

The preacher told her that she needed to divorce her present husband so she could go back to her first husband. It was unknown whether he had remarried. She asked what should be done about her seven-year-old son that she and her present husband had. How would it affect him for his home to be broken up?

“He'll thank you for doing the right thing,” he declared with wild eyes.

This moron came after I served at the same church. He had great talent in chasing people out of an already troubled church. He yelled, condemned, even called names.

I was invited back for a special program. When we had a moment, I asked him how things were going. His eyes widened and watered and with a childish whine said he thought that things were going very well.

I wanted to say, “Look pal, when you beat up on the people, you don't get to turn around and act like one of the wounded.”

The thing was, he probably was wounded as a child. But I'm not willing to be warm and fuzzy to a guy who kills the spirits of others. First, leave the rest of my people alone, then maybe I'll offer some kindness.

I knew another loser who could actually grow a church in his own sick way. We both served churches in a college town.

It was homecoming weekend. Moms, dads, college children, grandparents, and babies were all there on Sunday morning, dressed up, smiling, proud to show their families and see old friends.
The preacher stands and preaches about the evils of homosexuality.


This same guy was asked to speak as a guest at large church where old guard leadership wanted to make it clear that divorce was ALWAYS wrong. He served as sort of a verbal hit man and he was good at it. Several women ran out of the church crying. It’s a couple of decades later, but I still want to deck the guy, although he’s probably in a nursing home by now.

This same guy once criticized me to one of his former members who decided she liked my church better. Who could blame her?

“He doesn’t believe in baptism,” he protested as if I had just proclaimed that Hitler was a saint. It’s true that I didn’t believe like did—that people will go to hell if they don't get the job done in just the right way with just the right words uttered. However, I still offer baptism as a sacrament from God.

“Go back and ask that assho--, I mean that preacher how many he’s baptized,” I said, “then come back and ask me and we’ll compare numbers.”

Like I said, guys like these usually suffered tremendous wounds as children. But it's hard for me to care. I've known many people who used their wounds as motivation to help others, not hurt them under the protective mantle of religion.

So I kind of despise them for what they've done in contributing to humankind's woundedness. We're the guys who are supposed to make people better, not worse. I've spent a great deal of energy trying to undo their work.

What really mystifies me is how people can lump guys like these two clowns with the rest of the ministers who work quietly, compassionately, and perhaps effectively (I'm humbly including in the latter category).

The cruel dictator preachers often have growing churches, at least for a while before they self destruct. Are people really sheep, as Jesus describes? Don't they have any ability to discern when evil is deceptive?

I'll have more to say later.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Loved By the Mother of a Bar Room Bouncer

“I’m a bouncer for a bar.” I told the little lady in the hospital waiting room.

It had been a funny, lively conversation… spicier than I usually get from grandparently women. I was with a friend whose mother was having surgery. I had teasingly told them that after all we’d talked about, they’d be surprised to find out what I did for a living.

When they asked. I told them I was a bouncer.

Ain’t I a scamp?

Then I ‘fessed up’ and told them I was a minister. They noted my western boots, jeans, scruffy beard, and tall stature (not to mention my girth).

“You look more like a bouncer than a minister they said.”

“I know. However SHE’S the real bouncer,” I said as I pointed to the lady I was sitting with. She’s no bigger than a minute but she really runs a backwoods saloon and has been known to fire a shotgun in the air to gain the attention of some rowdies.

We laughed some more and one of the ladies said, “I’m going to have to start going to church again.”

The woman who was having surgery had asked me to come see her. I was no longer her minister but we were still friends. It had been a while since I had seen her but the two hugs she gave me before she went into surgery felt very familiar as they soaked into me.

She may have needed to see me, but I also needed to see her.

“I love your mom,” I later told the sometimes gun-toting daughter.

“I know,” she said. “She loves you, too.”

I nodded, not wanting show the emotion that was threatening to come out. I knew she loved me.

The fact is, I have been popular enough in most of my churches. I can charm most people in most waiting rooms.

But being loved by someone is pretty dadgum special.

My friend in the hospital has no money or influence. A few people have told me that I’m a saint for putting up with her because she can be flighty and even irrational.

But I’ll happily drive across the state to see her for a few minutes simply because she asks it of me. And she would do the same for me for the same reason I’d do it for her. She loves me.

In my profession we talk a lot about love. It’s the basis for the good we’re supposed to do. But the truth is that I don’t feel it, I don’t receive it, and I don’t give it nearly enough. But when I encounter it, I treasure it.

Oh, and she came through the surgery just fine.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Risky Sabbaticals

Eugene Peterson once wrote (I think it was The Contemplative Pastor) about the need for pastors to take a sabbatical. He had been at his church for decades and he chose to take an entire year away (as I recall). He wrote of his insights and encouraged all pastors to engage in sabbatical discipline.

It sounded great if a pastor could actually swing the time off.

I learned early in my ministry that my opposition moved against me when I was out of town. If I took two weeks, that was time for at least two quiet business meetings and all kinds of phone calls. I know more than one minister who came home from vacation to find he was out of a job.

If I go on vacation, I weigh the stress of knowing someone is speaking against me while I am away with the relief of having time away from horses' asses.

This is one of those things about church work that I find shameful. Why is it that an organization which exists to do God's work can be so dishonest, cowardly, petty, and mean spirited?

Are they so frightened of the minister that they can't look him in the face to say, "We're not happy with the work you're doing."?

I got mad at Peterson for suggesting that pastors weren't cutting it because they weren't pursuing enough spiritual discipline. And I admit that I got just a bit of satisfaction when I read in his next book how he came back to his church and found things so turbulent that he couldn't stay.

Eugene, it's difficult to soar with the eagles when you're surrounded by wusses.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Church Ladies

When I moved from the strict conservative denomination where I grew up to a more moderate one, I found that many things stayed the same: music, gossip, potlucks, board (bored) meetings, Sunday School, and funeral dinners.

During my first week at this new church, we prepared for a potluck luncheon. An older lady came by to check the kitchen for supplies.

I've known ladies like this all my life. They are the ones who make the church go. They check supplies, make the phone calls, teach the classes, watch the nursery, and keep the pastor informed of the latest town gossip. They bring food to every funeral, meeting, potluck, and sick family. They fill the children at church with candy but disapprove of how young parents allow them to run about in the church. They are the conscience of the community, clucking and pursing their lips at the innappropriateness of it all.

This was one of those ladies. But then she blew the stereotype when she looked in the fridge and said, JESUS CHRIST! We're out of butter!"

I've heard church ladies like her offer utterances of a tamer quality: Heavens! My Lands! and Oh Noooo! But invoking the name of the Almighty's begotten Son was what you did after suffering a brain injury.

I decided I was taking it wrong. She was not cursing. She was praying.

"Brothers and sister, I perceive that you are religious in every way. Why, you even call upon the Lord to confer about the unknown origins of dairy products...."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Ego

Easter Sunday and the place was packed. Lots of wayward family members squirming in the pews as a favor to their grandmothers. And there were the semiannual church attendees who came last Christmas. Plus, the visiting dignitary--part of a body of governors that I answer to, who decide my professional fate.

The irritation, ego, and anxiety settle in. First, I think about how most of these people won't be here next Sunday and I fight the temptation to thumb my nose at them. Then I think of the dignitary and how I need to perform well for him. If he doesn't like me, I could be sent to the Siberia of our denomination.

I quickly review the sermon. Jeez, I wish I could think of an extra clever story to go with the message--something that really pops. God, don't let me be too lame.

Then I think how I've been preaching longer than this guy and am probably better than him on my worst day. It occurs to me that I don't want to show him up too badly or he'll make sure I get sent to the Siberia of our denomination.

And then, finally, I remember that this man has his own sadness and trials to bear. Whatever his purpose for being there, mine was the same as it always is: to bless the people.

I'm not sure why that is hard to remember, but I go through this little process fairly often.

There were no problems. People said I was extra good. And I was.

But there goes the ego again.