Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Crap

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

Christmas sucks and I wish it were over.

I’ve preached on how we should not let ourselves be ruled by a negative attitude.  I’m singing the music. I’m being the life of the parties.  

But I’m faking it, as usual

There are people in recovery who are trying not to start drinking again.   I’ve dealt with too much death and done too many funerals before or just after Christmas Day. 

Now, I still like the story of Christ’s birth who is a symbol of hope and a promise of peace.  I like how the mystical and the earthy elements are woven together: dreams and visions vs. pregnancy and traveling. Angels singing and shepherds listening. A star shining over a stable. 

As a father, I get how a child can be a God figure.

Holding onto that makes it possible to bear all of the crap and push onto the new year.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beware the Friendly Faces

When I go to a new church, the people who are friendliest at first are usually the ones I can’t trust. They’ll take me to lunch, give me tickets to ball games, and sit on the front row at church and beam as I preach. But they’re the ones who want something from me, who have an agenda that they want me to support.  And they’re usually the ones who got rid of the last preacher. 

I am reminded of a movie called “Romero,” a true story of an Archbishop appointed to San Salvador.  He was soft spoken and physically frail, and the local powers figured he’d be easy to control.

He wasn’t. 

There was a party to welcome him and people brought him lavish gifts for which he politely thanked them. However, he was ecstatic when a poor shoe maker gave him shoes with soft soles so he could walk comfortably.  He wore them all the time as he walked to the villages of the poor.

The frail, soft spoken priest became the champion for the poor, speaking powerfully against the wealthy families, and the corrupt government officials. 

He was assassinated—shot while he presided over Mass.

I’ve been here long enough for the tide to have turned in my church. The ones who were happy to have me here are not so happy now. They can’t say anything because I’m pretty popular with the others.

They really ought to be grateful I’m as old as I am, because as a younger man I wouldn’t have tolerated them so much, and I would have looked for ways to make them go away. 

But they won’t go away. They’ve been here so long that even their enemies tolerate them. They’ll get quieter and bide their time until I’m not doing so well. When my vitality flags, or I have personal complications that come from having family, or if the church suffers some discouragement, they’ll move against me.  And they might win.  In fact, they probably will.

That would be a shame. This church, like most, has a short lifespan. It won’t last another ten years unless it makes some major changes. Can they make them?

It’s iffy. Chances are they won’t, especially if they involve themselves in another power struggle that wastes time and energy.  They can’t afford the luxury of playing this game anymore.

But here are some things for me to consider.

First, I like this church. 

Second, I like this town. I like the people. I appreciate how pretty the scenery is.  I’m really pretty happy here. I could even make some friends, maybe. 

And third, I didn’t come here to close this church down. I intend to light it up. It might burn down but it won’t shut down.
This isn’t San Salvador and I’m not Romero. Let them take their best metaphorical shot at me.  I’ve got work to do.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Better Place

I’m in a better place these days.

It’s amazing how pleasant things can be when you have trees and grass and flowers outside, a nice house to live in, and people who act glad to see me when they come near—and some of them may even be genuine. 

It’s not a perfect church. Plenty of problems to go around, but of course, that’s why I work here.

I’ve been busy with my new situation here and that’s why I haven’t blogged, but I’d like to get back to it if there’s anybody out there who still checks this blog out.  I have some more to say.

Since I’m in a better mood, I’ve decided to change the look, brighten things up a bit. So I hope you like it. 


Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Like Them More

I met with the younger families of my new church. I was a hit with the older folks, but these young ones were a tougher sell. And they were less forthcoming to my questions about the strengths and the future of the church. 

I think it’s because they could see that so much responsibility for the church’s welfare would be resting on their shoulders. And that’s correct. With so many old people who will be dying soon, they will shoulder more responsibilities.

And they’re already tired.

In my last church, I didn’t cut them much slack. I told them they needed to decide on their priorities and put the church’s mission first. I told them not to be crybabies but to grow up and think like the grownups they were supposed to be. 

It didn’t work out well.

I looked at these young ones who were chasing their little children and speaking of the bills to pay and their ailing parents. I remembered how long the days were for a young parent and how tired they could get, but still more would be demanded from them far into the night.

I’m going to go a little easier on this bunch. They’re not so arrogant and they work hard. And I could see the fatigue. They need a pastor.

Why do I feel tenderness with these people when I was so hard on the last group?

For whatever reason, I like them more.  

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Better Preacher

I’ve moved from dry dusty plains to lush greenery and lovely blooms. There are mountains and tree canopies and birds of every color. Our new house is big enough for me to have some privacy and my wife to have her own office. My office is no longer a cubicle, but large enough for me to pace about.

My new church has some pretty old people, but they are very interesting—lots of literate, educated folks, which is new for me.   They were rough on the last preacher, but they feel pretty bad about it and are determined to be nicer to the new one (that would be me).

In an atmosphere of appreciation, I’m a better minister overnight. They marvel at how quickly I picked up their names. They love to hear me sing. And my preaching is brilliant—okay, maybe they didn’t say that last part. 

But I’m really doing a better job here. I’m thinking straighter and my mind has gotten more nimble, like it used to be. 

They say my style makes them feel like I’ve opened up the windows and let in the fresh air and light. 

It’s the honeymoon stage, I know. But I didn’t have one in the last church, where people curled their lips when I greeted them.  So I’m grateful, even though this work will have its frustrations soon enough.

In fact, as I walked beneath the pine trees on a path that’s just a hundred yards from my house, I kept breathing the same word. 

Thank you.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Favorite Bumper Sticker

(Everyone else thinks you're an a--hole).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm Not Wyatt Earp

I'll tell you what nudged my thoughts in last night's post.

I was watching Tombstone, the story of Wyatt Earp. They'd killed one brother and maimed another. He rode out of town with his family as if he'd been completely beaten. But as soon as his family was safe he went back to defeat them with his friend Doc Holliday.

I can relate.

I have felt like a sheriff more than once. I've faced mean and occasionally dangerous people before. And I've had friends I loved dearly who were every bit as drunk and deadly as Doc.

Okay, there are some differences, too. This isn't the old West. I'm not tall, slim, and tough. I don't ride a horse (a motorcycle instead). I carry a Bible, not a six gun (I can shoot one though). And I don't kill people. In fact, to the best of my limited ability I try to honor Jesus by blessing my enemies (but I'm reaching my limit on that one).

But other than that, I'm exactly like Wyatt Earp. 

Well, okay not exactly like him. 

Okay, not like him at all.

I still don't like walking away without having gotten the job done.

On the other hand, I can learn to live with it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sore Loser

It’s working out.

My reputation is intact. No one in the denomination believes the unfair criticism people leveled at me. I’m going to a better church that’s eager for me to come. The schools will be good for my children. My wife likes our new home which will be nicer than anything we’ve lived in before.

I’m going on to better things.

They will still have each other.

I win.

And yet it galls me something fierce to walk away without having gotten the job done.

So if I could stay, would I?

Hell no.  

But I hate losing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Sex Talk

It was very quiet on the day I preached on moral responsibility concerning human sexuality. It wasn’t just quiet, it was still. And tense. And it made me that way, too.

Now I have to say, I thought I was pretty damn graceful in my phrasing. I was not graphic by any means. It's hard not to trip over a double entendre that would cause folks to titter, but I managed. And I doubt I came off sounding like a prude, which is good, because generally, I'm all for sex.  It's one of my favorite things.

Some appreciated the sermon. Others didn't.

Generally, we’re pretty freewheeling about the subject of sex our culture. It’s in our jokes, our gossip, entertainment, literature, and news. If it’s the least bit funny, and often when it’s not, we’ll laugh raucously.

But let the preacher talk about it from the pulpit and all the humor, as well as the oxygen, is sucked out of the room.

It happens when we talk about money, too. If the minister gives one measly sermon on tithing, someone will skulk out the door and huff about how preachers only want money.

If I can’t talk about sex or money, that leaves politics, but the law says I can’t address that (which is okay by me).

“Just preach from the Bible preacher.”

That’s what I was doing, although I toned it down considerably. The Bible has so much to say about sex that you could give it an "R" rating.

“Preach about holy living.”

That’s what I was doing.

“Preach about spirituality.”

That’s what I was doing.

Well just don’t make us uncomfortable. Preach things that make us feel good. We want it to be fun. Don’t make us feel guilty. Tell us funny stories instead. Make it exciting. And don’t take too long.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Preachers Move

I’ve grown up in a minister’s home and I’ve been a minister all of my adult life and I’ve known many inisters. I can tell you why most of them have to leave churches.
Sometimes there’s a scandal, where the pastor slept with the organist, or stole money, or worse. I’ve known of at least two ministers who faked their deaths so they could just disappear. Sometimes it’s a happier circumstance where he is offered a bigger opportunity, or perhaps by some miracle, he or she gets to retire.

Mostly preachers leave because someone doesn’t like them. It’s always a vocal minority that gets a voice when the pastor has been at a church long enough to have hit a slump. Usually, that’s the third year.

Usually, the majority like the minister just fine but for the sake of peace they passively withdraw their support of him and hope he’ll just disappear like the two guys I mentioned above. So he picks up his belongings, pulls his wife and children out of their lives and hopefully finds someplace else to go. This has happened to me a couple of times and it’s happening again.

Was I right or wrong? Did I do well or poorly? It doesn’t matter. Someone wanted me gone and the congregation expects me to be a sacrificial lamb for the sake of their peace.

Am I a good man? Am I moral? Or did I practice evil? Again, it doesn’t really matter. Just as long as people stay comfortable.

Will this hurt my wife and children? Well that would be a shame, but when it comes down to it, they don’t care.

Perhaps there is something here that would explain why preachers self destruct. And perhaps it’s also a symptom of churches that just sort of hang on but never grow much.

It certainly explains why most preachers’ children never set foot inside a church building when they grow up--unless for some reason beyond my understanding they’re called into the ministry.