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. 

CG

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

JESUS LOVES YOU!
(Everyone else thinks you're an a--hole).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blood Letting

“This geek isn’t going to fit in,” one of the influential leaders said about me before I ever moved in here.

By geek, they mean I’m not athletic and I don’t care about sports. I think it also means that I like to read and enjoy good conversation.

He was right. I didn’t fit in. 

I’m used to that. We ministers really are a strange breed, especially in blue collar areas where one’s worth is measured by how well he can raise livestock or drive a tractor.

My children were criticized for not fitting in well in this community. The implication is that there is something odd about them.

The last preacher’s kids fit in much more easily. Of course one of them narrowly avoided jail by making a deal with the DA to testify against his friend. And the others knew how to have a good time. So of course, they're missed.

But my children didn’t make the cut. Never mind that they’ve made A's in all subjects every semester they’ve been here. Never mind their achievements in art and music, as well as academia. Never mind that my older son has one of the school’s highest ACT scores ever. Never mind that they are articulate, kind, and have never once been in trouble at school. 

The people don’t like my wife either. Like the kids, she’s too quiet, and she makes others feel uncomfortable. I guess it doesn’t help that she’s breathtakingly beautiful. I told one of the leaders that I was baffled by the criticism because my wife has been quite popular in other churches. 

The leader tried to encourage me. “I’m sure she’ll be popular here one day, if she keeps trying.”

I was taken aback at what he implied. Later, after the moment was past and I was by myself I figured out what I wanted to say:  “You don’t understand. It’s not that she isn’t measuring up. It’s THIS CHURCH that isn’t measuring up. It is THIS CHURCH that has failed.  It’s THIS CHURCH that needs to do better.

I can look back and see where I would have done some things differently—that’s a normal part of evaluating. I can even see where there could have been some misunderstanding and I would have appreciated the opportunity to clear things up. 

But I didn't make many wrong moves. I've done this work enough to know that I'm better than average at it.  

And I worked hard to make things better for them. I visited them in the hospital. I comforted them at funerals. I taught and loved their children—I still love their children.

I don’t know how to end this post. I don’t know how I feel. I do know that we’re moving in two weeks and if I could pack up and leave tonight, I would.  

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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A New Set of Problems

So there's this old lady at the new church I'll be moving to. They're blaming her for everything and she probably deserves some of the credit for their problems.  

She talks too much and too loud and most of what comes out of her mouth are complaints. 

I saw her in action the first time I visited these people. She's an  old woman full of anxiety and spare time that she spends gossiping on the phone.  But she's no threat. The day I can't handle that old biddy I'll hang up my robes, retire and go fishing.  

Wait, don't tempt me.

No, she's the identified patient in this little crazy family. The scapegoat. As usual, their problems are more systemic with a strong inclination toward passive aggressiveness.  She's a hitman that they point at anyone they don't like.  

They didn't like the last guy.

But they're gonna like me. And she's gonna adore me.

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.

Sigh….

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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Time to Move On


We’ve reached the point where I have no one to trust or rely on. After marrying, burying, baptizing, comforting, and counseling these people, a large segment of them, many of whom I have helped, went to my superior behind my back to complain and ask for me to be removed from my position. 

They have no idea what they’ve done. They may not ever figure it out.

It turns out I have a reputation that goes beyond their little realm. My supervisor was not impressed with the dozen people who came to him with their complaints. He was not impressed that they went behind my back. He was not impressed with their petty complaints. And he didn’t believe them.  Neither did the larger cabinet who decided to promote me.

I’m moving on to a church that is excited at the prospect of having me. I’ll be leaving a church that was at each other’s throats when I got there and will continue to devour each other when I’m gone.

The group that went to my boss? The group that won? They’ll be blamed and hated the rest of their time here. They didn’t know that I’ve been protecting them. 

To hell with em.

It’s time to pack my bags and go. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hairophobia

I’ve been discriminated against!

Pardon me. I need a moment to calm down, slow my heart rate, and ungnash my teeth. 

I traveled three hundred miles round trip to visit a woman in the hospital. She’s certainly worth the time and effort. She’s lovely, bright, and appreciative. 

But not her husband.  He was standing by her bed. I had never met him before today. When I reached to shake his hand, he backed up with his hands pulled out of reach.

“I can’t. I won’t touch something dirty,” he said.

I wondered if he might have a germ phobia, but given his appearance, I doubted it. 

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him, “I washed my hands just before I came in.”

That wasn’t his problem. 

“I don’t trust a man with a beard,” he told me. “It’s unnatural. It’s not decent. And I figure a man’s got to be hiding something if he has a beard covering him.”

I could see by the light in his eye that this was an old craziness.

"That's why I don't go to church," he said. "When she came home and told me you had a beard, I knew I'd never set foot in your church." 

“I see.” And because I couldn’t help it, I said. “I wonder of Jesus had a beard.” 

“They didn’t have razors back then,” He said with a withering look. He bowed up, ready to fight some more. 

But I was done with him. I turned  away to visit with his wife who held her head and shook it slowly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. 

“It’s okay,” I whispered.  And then we talked. She was surprised that I drove so far to see her.

“You’re worth it,” I said.  I always say that. 

I didn’t stay long. But I was nice. I’m always nice except when I’m not.

On the drive home, I alternated between being mad and being amused.   

I am afraid his condition is permanent. He’s a terminal asshole. 

I have a lot of friends who are just as crazy, some of whom I love very much. They’re eccentrics who can’t get along with others and are very lonely. I know how to be friends and accept them and they’re usually grateful for it. And sometimes, just a little acceptance from the minister opens the door for them to the rest of the community. 

But for this guy, it just ain't happening. 

I’m almost sorry to say it, but I will not give this old fart one more minute of my time unless he’s humble enough to ask for it.  

But like I said, that's not going to happen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Being the Boss

The cleaning lady quit today. Her teenage daughter left the keys on my desk along with an angry letter about how disrespectful I had been to her mother--and me being a minister and all.

She threatened to tell on me.

She had saved up all the memos I had written her mother and she was going to turn them in to the, and I quote:

"Better Bisuness Buro."

I'm relieved. She was doing a terrible job. Even I noticed, and that's saying something.

Even so, I shielded a lot of negative talk from the congregation about her. I've been working for churches for thirty years. In every congregation there's a gray haired cadre of women who are unhappy about the hygiene of the church building. I hadn't even put my books up on the shelf of my office in this present church before one of them came to me with a "real problem." With all the construction going on at the time, it was hard to expect a spic and span facility.

Besides, I didn't care.

As time went on, it was clear even to me that she wasn't getting the job done. Any other employer would have fired her a long time ago. But I worked with her a lot. I didn't want her to lose her job. However, she found a reason to quit when she saw I was going to insist she actually work while she was here.

I hate supervisory work, but it's a necessary evil, I suppose.

I've cleaned a lot of the building these last few days. I like it. It's not hard like, say, being a supervisor.

I like making the building look spiffy. I've written about my ambivilance concerning lavish church buildings, but I also think if we have something, it should be taken care of.

And now I'll be able to write up a better job description for the next person.

Once a member of the church becomes an employee, the relationship changes, and it's hard to be both boss and pastor. I try to have a supervisory committee in place, but it still comes down to me having direct contact with the employees. If this lady had been working somewhere else, she would have come to me to vent, and I would have given her my support.

Now, she'll be venting to someone else about me.

It bothers me. I didn't do anything wrong. In fact, I feel like I was extra patient and kind. I even protected her.

But as in many cases, when you try to be the hero, you're going to be treated like a villain.

Gotta go clean the windows now.