I can’t look at the TV and I can just barely glance at
I don’t to hear the details of the shootings. I don’t to
know how many shots were fired. I don’t want to speculate on what the children
felt during the time of the shootings. I don’t want to see the faces of the children’s
parents. I don’t want to hear of the heroics of the teachers. I don’t want to
hear about what people witnessed when they who first arrived on the scene. I don’t want
to see funerals. I don’t want to know about the quiet awkward guy who did the
shooting and I don’t want to see the agony of his mother.
I can’t look at the pictures of beautiful children that
I don’t want to hear interviews of psychological experts.
I don’t want to see the news whores scrambling to
interview traumatized parents.
I don’t want to hear political whores use this event to pontificate
about their own views.
And God, I’m can’t stand facebook where people feed their
anxieties about gun laws and extra security and questions about who is at fault
for letting this happen.
I’ve already seen dead children and held shattered
parents. I’ve walked through traumatized crowds. So I don’t want to think about these things.
This morning I stayed home from the office to have some
I’m trying to write up the advent services for the next
few weeks. I was also hoping to get
started on my sermon series. Plus, I
have a little more work to do for my college class tonight.
I awoke in the night thinking of yet another friend in
the community who attempted suicide, and has now reached out to me (and a
couple of other people). I’ve been facebooking with her this morning.
A few moments ago, a member of my last church contacted
me and asked me for words to help her deal with grief, guilt, and anger, all
mixed into one big ball of family confusion.
And just now, a woman calls me as she drives to another
town to look after her grown daughter who is sick, in great pain, and has been
so for years. The mother is a wonderful, beautiful person who is desperate for
her child and reaching a place of frustration in her faith. At her request I pray with her on the phone
while she drives down the highway.
Come to think of it, I have phone calls that need to be
made to two other mothers who are with their children in hospitals.
Even as I jot these words down, I’m interrupted to answer
And then the phone rings.
The “Wellness” coach from my insurance company called to ask me how I’m doing
with my weight loss, rest, and exercise, which almost triggers a spell of maniacal
But I’m back in control.
It happens like this sometimes. Everything comes in at
once. I actually like moving back and forth from one thing to another. I like
being of help to people. And to be honest, I’d rather do this any day
than attend another goddamn church business meeting.
I just want to have it on record somewhere for those who
wonder what I do during the week that this is what I did before 10:30 this
The boy who tried to kill himself is in better shape for the moment. He told his family and friends who all responded by listening, encouraging, and spending time with him. They took him out to eat good things because he hadn't been eating. He has started sleeping again. Those two things alone can help enormously. And he treated himself to a fun evening, something I was thinking he should do. He went out with friends for pizza, and then to a bar for dancing and some imbibing. He told me all about it the next day. I don't believe I've ever told a person that I thought it was wonderful that he went out and got drunk with friends. But I did this time. I found out from other teachers that there are several students who are or who have been suicidal at that school. One took his life last year. If this is the case, I've found a new direction to focus on.
Thriving Pastor on Facebook posed this question: "What are some of the hardest lessons you've had to learn as a pastor? I couldn't pass this up, so here is a partial list.
train people to be theologians, but they don’t train us to run or start
churches. We can’t do without theologians in a world that loves its pop spirituality,
but we also need to know how to read a financial spreadsheet, organize
volunteers, deliver a message, supervise staff, do the work of a social worker,
maneuver in political waters, and relate to the public, all of which I’ve had
to learn (somewhat imperfectly) on my own.
2. You won’t
get the love you need from your church. No matter how much they say you're part of their family, it is not true (I expect some argument, but I'm right about this) They pay you to do the job and when
you can’t do it for them, they want you to leave so they can get someone else. Your
family has to be ready for this, too.
3. God is
never who you think he should be and she is never really what you teach others
about him/her. Theologians need to
remember that the search to understand God never ends. That’s hard enough to
accept for yourself, but it’s sometimes intolerable for your people who want
you to tell them concrete answers to their spiritual questions.
4.The quest for truth often needs to be put
on hold so you can help someone in distress.
5. Most of the
time, the people you help cannot return the favor. Don’t expect their
loyalty. That’s not why you helped them in the first place (or is it?).
6.Friends are hard to come by and come
from unexpected places. The ministry can be unbearably lonely, so never, ever take a true friend for granted.
I often watch my son when he listens to music on his mp3,
and I see him close his eyes to go into his own world where there is only him
and the music. I have often done the same thing.
I remember a time when he was first learning the guitar and
I played along with him as he put his notes together. He was almost breathless
with excitement that he could play together with someone else. I remember that feeling, too.
I’ve read some of the things I’ve written about music and I’ve
tried to understand how my relationship with it has evolved. I’ve spoken of music as if it has been a turbulent
love affair. I love it. I hate it. It’s boring and has let me down. It came
back to me and I remembered why I loved it.
We’ve done everything except agree to “just be friends.”
I think it’s because for a long time, I associated music
with God, as if it were a tangible version of the Holy Spirit. It was my way to
be in touch with the Divine Entity. If a piece of music was especially effective
in church, it could give me chills and I’d feel the Presence. I’d find
assurance and comfort in that feeling. And
when I lost it, I felt betrayed by the music.
Over time, I’ve associated it less and less in this way, until it seemed
a hollow, mocking thing.
But lately, music has become wonderful again, only I don’t associate
it with God’s presence anymore.
I hear it as the expression of the musicians and the
composers. And that’s pretty wonderful.
It’s wonderful when one of the kids at church struggles through a song in front
of the church—because that’s the child’s expression. It’s wonderful when a musician with years of
training performs for an audience because I’m hearing a testimony of that
person’s life. It’s wonderful when I get
to perform because I’m doing something that expresses something about me.
I especially love singing and playing with a group of
friends and it all comes together to sound right. I love getting people at
church to sing the old familiar songs with me, perhaps showing them that they
still have music inside them.
It’s still spiritual to me, but it has more to do with my
I think that when I die, my soul will dissolve into music
and rise into heaven to combine with everyone else’s melodies in a grand symphony.
Egad! I’ve become one of those pansy-assed sissies that sip
tea instead of coffee. It’s not even
real tea. It’s herbal tea.
You can’t be a preacher in these parts and drink hot tea. If you want to relate
to people, you have to be able to plunk yourself down at any time of the day and
drink the gawdawfulest, caffeine laced, black coffee that has distilled on the
burner all day until it has become a near solid.
They teach this in first year seminary.
I now know that I’m in full professional decline. First, I
started adding cream and sweetener (in seminary, this would lower your average
by one letter grade). Then I went to decaf which is the worst kind of hypocrisy.
To say it’s not my fault, to protest that caffeine now makes
my heart race and my chest flutter—well it’s just sad. My colleagues shift
uncomfortably and look at each other with sideward glances as they assure me
that they don’t think any less of me.
But I know what they’re saying when I’m out of earshot. They’re
saying that I brought it on myself, that it has to be my own fault.
But they’d be wrong, I protest. It could happen to any one
of them, too. As Job once told his so
called friends, “Look on me and be afraid!”
Next thing you know, I’ll have to give up fried chicken.
It wasn’t too long ago that I read from a textbook that
ministers and counselors can be tempted to get their vicarious thrills through
the personal accounts of people who come to them for help. For instance, while the clergyperson may not
have engaged in many sexual adventures, he could enjoy hearing about what other
people have done when they confess in the counseling room.
As soon as I read it, I realized that I used to do
that. However, I grew out of it before I
read that it was a problem. I couldn’t
really draw a clear boundary back then, but I gradually realized I was on the
wrong side of the line. I was using someone else’s misery to fill an
emptiness in my own life.
When people come to me they’re often terribly conflicted
about their pasts and they’re looking for resolution and perhaps absolution. They
don’t intend to be a source of entertainment.
Well, okay some of them do, but I’ll write about that
I wish I had had better training in my younger days. However,
we focused primarily on the study of scriptural texts and articulating
doctrine. Nobody warned us of the temptations that few people other than
ministers and counselors face.
As I matured, I sharpened my focus on the concept that
I’m supposed to help people, not use them. Plus--and this is a big thing--over
the years, the sadness, cruelty, and pain of people’s lives have had a
cumulative effect on me. I’m still
interested in being of help--sometimes even passionate, They honor me with their trust. and I find satisfaction in helping. But I'm no longer excited by someone else's misadventures. I’m usually relieved to find refuge at home at
the end of the day.
Here are some words to a song that was popular in the fundamental conservative denomination in which I grew up.
Troublesome times are here,
filling men’s hearts with
Freedom we all hold dear now is at stake….
Jesus is coming soon,
morning or night or noon,
Many will meet their doom
Trumpets will sound….
Believe it or not, this was one of those “feel good” songs, where people stood up, swayed, and clapped
their hands, smiling at each other, marveling at how they could worship and have
fun at the same time.
Here’s another one:
It’s gonna rain. Yeah, it’s gonna rain
Oh, you better get ready and bear this in mind.
For God showed Noah the rainbow sign
It won’t be water, but fire this time….
The teenagers would rock to this one, using it as a way
to get the joint jumping just before we had pizza and volleyball.
We had several other tunes that were catchy enough, but
as anyone in their right minds could see, the message was full of anxiety, doom, and destruction.
It took me a long time to see how nutty we were: “We’re
gonna be destroyed. We deserve it. Praise God!” And then we'd tell each other that heaven would be just like this.
It was more than conflicting. It reflected a crazy,
schizoid lifestyle full of depression and anxiety.
When I became a minister within that community, I
considered myself a reformer, someone who could help deliver us all from our
craziness. My efforts were often not appreciated. I got into more trouble
telling people they were okay, that God loved them, and that they were going to
After a few years, I quit trying to save the “saved,” and
I moved on.
Now here’s something really odd to me. I get a weird nostalgia when I think of that
crazy music. It’s part of my childhood. Sometimes it feels like it was somebody
else’s life. I miss it.
Then I take an aspirin and lie down until the