Saturday, January 30, 2010

Perspective

"Is my son dead?"

"Yes," I said. "Just a few minutes ago."

The man is old, somewhat older now than a few hours ago. He had been expecting it, but there's no way to get ready for this.

The family called to ask me to go tell him the dreadful news. They were far away. Because of his health, they did not want him to hear the news on the phone while he was alone.

He's a tough talking man with an outrageous sense of humor and a tender, as well as a fragile heart. He's never been to church but he's one of my people. I've only known him a year, but I love him deeply.

"You want some coffee or tea? Maybe some milk?" he said abruptly.

"No, I'm fine."

I sat as he told me stories of a son who'd done some bad things, but the father knew his grown child was good.

"It ain't RIGHT!" An old lion's brief roar.

"No." I whispered.

I have no magic words at a time like this. Nothing can be said that will make this better. It isn't right.

There are too many people in my church who've had to bury their children.

I just got back from his house. My back aches like I've been doing heavy lifting. I can't help thinking about my sons. If they were taken from me, how would I go on? And how will he?

It puts the other problems I have with this church in perspective.

This is the work I've been called to do. It's dreadful, but there's beauty. I can't explain it but this is the work I'm honored to do, and it's why I'm still a minister.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Still in the Saddle

The little girl stared at me thoughtfully while she rested in her mother's arms. The mom was telling me of her daughter's difficulties. "I think she may be a little scared of big men." I don't think the girl nodded but she was listening.

I'm a big man (loud too), and I knew she wasn't always too sure about me, although she had drawn two pictures for me the week before, of which I reminded her.

"You may not know how you feel about people sometimes," I told her. "But here's one thing you CAN know, and that's that I like you."

It got a hint of a smile.

Things have been easier at the church since the meeting I described previously. Several felt bad about how my wife had been treated. One individual paid to replace a large faulty appliance in the parsonage and told me to tell my wife to pick out exactly which one she wanted. When I asked this benefactor what the price range was, she looked at me with mock severity and said, "None of your business."

I've changed a bit toward them. I have seen their insecurities and I've come to understand how much reassurance they need. Instead of wondering how they feel about me, I'm conveying that I like them.

I don't always--like them I mean. But that's what I'm conveying.

And they seem to be responding. Maybe things will improve. Or maybe some of them will wait for another opportune time to nail me. We'll just have to see.

It's hard to describe how I feel. Perhaps its like riding an unbroken mare. I'd been waiting for her to bolt and buck. She finally did, then settled down, and I'm still in the saddle. Maybe a little more settled and in control.

But like I said, we'll see when (not if) she breaks loose again.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Calmer

Things have calmed a bit this week. I met with some of the same people again and gave them a chance to clarify themselves. I also apologized to the guy I came close to killing last week and I gave him some room to save face.

Why so nice? This is a power struggle I can't win outright. However, if we can be calmer, perhaps I can put a more systematic process in place that will allow us to work out our conflicts. And if most folks are reasonably honest, we can still work together.

And if we work together better, then those who are truly malevolent will be revealed more quickly and clearly.

The group had a chance to reassure me. "Those people who got mad at your wife will get over it. Don't worry. We'll get them back."

I appreciated the reassurance, but I straightened some things out in their thinking, I hope.

"Misunderstandings happen even when people are trying to do good things," I said. "I understand that and expect it. But I also expect people to come to me promptly to give me the opportunity to clear things up. If this had been done, we would not be having this meeting now.

"You assure me they'll get over it. But nobody meant to hurt them in the first place. However, somebody set out to hurt my wife and me. Of all the people referred to here, my wife was the one who was attacked. The difference is that we're grown ups. We won't go tell forty of our closest friends about this. And we won't stop serving even in a church that has not shown much caring for my wife.

"She has been sick. Her mother died. And she had to move to this new place where few people have come to know her. Yet she has continued to serve here because it was needed."

The room was stony silent at that moment. They looked sick and a bit betrayed, as if I had not adhered to some implied rules of engagement.

Clinically, I can tell you we have identified where this group needs to grow up. I know that some of them feel bad about how my wife was treated. Most of them feel chastised, like they've been scolded. But none of them have said the necessary words of reconciliation.

I have been charged by God to care for these people. Some of them I have grown to love. But at the moment, I sort of hate them, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

War Has Been Declared

It has been a while since I've written, and I'm hoping someone will read this and will offer up some prayers, or as my friend Sistermoon says—positive energy—my way.

It always happens to the preacher at one time or another. At some point, the element that is dissatisfied decides to attack the preacher when he's vulnerable. It has happened again. I wasn't surprised. It can hurt my feelings, but really, it's part of the job.

But they got to me pretty good last week. They caught me by surprise by criticizing my wife. I was meeting with the leadership to discuss how we can get back some of our young marrieds who are MIA when someone suggested that some of them weren't coming because my wife offended them. If this is true, it is for baseless reasons.

My wife is beautiful (like a model) and shy. She is lovely and quiet—sort of my counterpart. It has not been easy being a minister's wife, but she has rarely been criticized herself. In past churches the people saw that she works hard and they recognized her talents. The men sort of fall in love with her though she doesn't seem to notice it, and the women like her because they feel safe around her—somehow they do not feel competition with her.

The first time people meet her they look me over and wonder how a big clumsy guy like me rates someone like her, and my stock usually rises.

She has had to sacrifice a lot to be married to a minister. She could have easily had someone handsomer and more financially successful, but she chose to make her life with me.

My family has had to do without things because I serve the church. Not just things. How many birthdays and holidays have I had to be gone? How many dinners have I missed to take care of someone else? How many evenings have I not been at home because of the demands of a low paying job?

But this latest experience is not something the family should have to take. They don't deserve it.

I'm not hurt.

I'm mad.

I'm enraged.

The guy who spoke is lucky to have walked away that night—I wanted to leap across the table and grab him by the throat. I am disgusted with the other people around the table who simply looked down and did not speak up in her defense. I realized this had already been discussed between them.

Upon reflection I realize they criticized her because they knew it would get to me.

They were right.

This morning I will go and preach a sermon on love and I'll use many entertaining anecdotes. I'll be kind to all the unknowing people who need help. I will not use any angry words or commit any physically hostile actions.

But war has been declared. They have some advantages. But I've been in this business a long time. I know how to fight this kind of campaign. In the past, I've disciplined myself not to use my skills for personal reasons. I have been restrained.

But not anymore.