Friday, December 13, 2013

Clergy are weird, too...

From time to time I fret about being too candid in my reflections on
ministry.  I take care (usually) not to denigrate as I wrestle with ways to both maintain confidentiality while thinking critically about real-life issues in ministry.  After all, I'm not writing CPE verbatims but rather daily reflections on the ups and downs of living into this calling at this moment in time.  So most of the time I trust that because God is bigger and more healing than my sins and mistakes things will work out.  But every now and again I try to step back and see if I'm crossing any lines that should best be kept private.

A few times, for example, my honey has read a posting and said, "Wow that is too harsh - and unfair - I'd take that down."  And she has always been right.  (She is often right but I don't want to confess that too often because humility is a blessing, right?) Those have come about when I've felt backed into a corner with no clear allies in sight. Thankfully that is a rare condition these days, but it has happened in times past. I don't know if those outside the world of church professionals know that sometimes their clergy get beaten-up emotionally by institutional bullies and have no place to go with their fears and wounds. Often it seems that even the wisest souls in the business world are stunned to find that people in their own church are sometimes cruel and mean-spirited to their clergy.

Now I will be the first to confess that most of us who make up the ranks of the clergy are... weird. If, as I posted yesterday, it is true that people in our churches are strange (and they are), it is equally true that many clergy people are just as strange (although in ways that are most often the polar opposite of their parishioners' weirdness.) So if you subscribe to the general wisdom of the Myers-Briggs typology of personality types (as I do in a broad sense) you will discover that most clergy are introverts while most parishioners are fundamentally extroverted.  Most clergy are fascinated by the "inward" spiritual journey when most church members just want the facts so that a problem or situation can be fixed.  The majority of healthy clergy like to work collaboratively with their lay leadership while a super abundance of church folk just want an expert to tell them what is right or wrong so they can get on with other concerns.

Most clergy have never worked retail while their congregations know all too well what it means to sweat out making a payroll.  Most clergy fret and fuss about stewardship drives but don't know very much about helping their people come up with successful strategies to raise money. As one Pentecostal minister said to me back in Cleveland in my early days, "Most liberal white clergy are afraid of money.  They think it will taint them. But Jesus told us to 'make friends with unrighteous mammon.' (Luke 16:9)" If memory serves correctly, Jesus also said something about learning to live in a way that was wise as serpents but gentle as doves, yes?  

In other words, learn how the professionals make money work for them - get them involved in your fund raising and organizational structures, too - so that you aren't always being pauperized. Reinhold Niebuhr said much the same thing to us in a different context when he wrote about the children of light always losing to the children of darkness because we don't know how real life in the fast lane works.  

I was thinking of that last night as I nursed the end of this freakin' head
cold at a meeting I forgot I had to attend.  Granted, when I realized I had to be out of bed, my splitting headache got worse; but I had no choice given other realities.  So, I was there with colleagues I value - and trust - and even love. And it could still be my crankiness born of this cold, but I kept thinking: most of the clergy in this group seem to LOVE meetings, while most of the laity HATE them.  Clergy seem to define their productivity based upon how many meetings they attend - and it doesn't seem to matter if anything gets accomplished - they were there so that is a good thing.  But I could see the eyes of most of the lay people glaze over after about 35 minutes - and that's another key difference.  And it makes our respective but very different weirdnesses complicated.

Thank God for my small group of clergy colleagues who meet monthly (a meeting I had to give up last night because I thought I could stay in bed with this cold only to discover I was double-booked with my secretary out of town).  With this group of comparably weird folk, we can talk about what it feels like to get bullied - and what to do about it. We can hold one another accountable, too for being too weird in ways that are unhelpful and incomprehensible to our lay leaders. We can laugh and pray about what a weird calling ministry is for us all. 

Another way that many clergy are different from the people they serve in Christ's name is that we are voracious readers in a culture that has left the print world behind.  In a book I bought a few years ago and just started to read, Listening for the Soul: Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction by Jean Stairs, an important insight about Protestant clergy is offered.  She notes that because we have not embraced the Roman Catholic wisdom of the "Paschal Mystery" - how life regularly emerges from out of death - we rarely know how to help our congregations live into their reality.  Rather, we work to help them "fix" problems and respond to "crisis" instead of listening for what the flow of life, death and new life might mean.  We tend to resist the rhythm of the soul, she suggests, rather than rest within it.  We are often living in our heads because we lack a sacramental vision for ministry.  

There is, of course, a Protestant take on the "paschal mystery" in what Douglas John Hall describes as the Reformation's road less traveled: a theology of the Cross as articulated by Luther.  But this is clearly the minority report.  I have found myself drawn to both tradition's wisdom as I try to live into Peterson's reworking of Matthew 11: 28-30 with the key being the unforced rhythms of grace:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Well, that's enough rambling for now.  On this cold wintry Berkshire Sabbath, in addition to nursing our respective colds, I think we'll get a small Christmas tree.  I came upon this quote last night and it feels like my Advent prayer: "Before you speak, think: Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?"

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