Owning our bullshit part two...

Here are a few other truths I've learned about owning our own bullshit as a part of the church: 

+ First, clergy like everyone else, hate to be at fault so we're quick to blame circumstance, other people or our historic wounds when we create a problem. That is normal, ok? It doesn't mean you are a wicked person nor does it mean that you are any more a sinner than anyone else. What we have to do, however, is not give in to denial but quickly own what is our fault - and then just as quickly ask God and the aggrieved other for forgiveness. As people of faith we do not simply offer an apology. That would be self-centered and complete bullshit. Rather with humility and honesty, we ask to be forgiven as Jesus taught us in the Lord's Prayer. Then we give ourselves over to grace and the hard work of re-earning their trust. 
+ Second, many of the times when we clergy (or church professionals) sense or feel that we have been the source of a problem, it is simply not true. Over the years, for example, when members of the community go AWOL, when pledges are down or an event tanks, my first reaction is to ask: what did I do that was wrong? What I've now learned to do is take the next step and wait. Be still, the Psalmist says, and know that I am God. When I wait - and trust - and do not give in to fretting (my particular failing) what usually happens is that I discover either there really wasn't a problem at all or it had nothing to do with me. (Fretting,I've discovered, is the shadow side of being self-absorbed.) Time and again, if I hold off reacting I am shown that what I sensed was a problem was just my own bullshit messing with me once again. In an upside-down and inverted way I have had to learn that "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." (James 1:26)
+ Third, while most members of a congregation grasp this, there are always a few people who fail to understand that the church - or the clergy - cannot fix their problems. God can - but most of the time we are called to carry some of our burdens as a cross and learn how to be alive, loving and real under the strain. MLK once said something like because God gave him a brain to figure things out and strength to carry the load he must never believe that the Lord is going to do our work for us. Yes, in an emergency, churches can rally to help build a bridge back to normalcy for hurting people. We can bring meals, clean houses, put on bandages, do the laundry, sit and hold your hand - but only for a short time. It is total bullshit to want the congregation - or the pastor - to be your friend, to take away your loneliness, to organize your check book, to make your family love you and on and on and on. 

Once about 20 years ago, I was complaining to a wise old clergyman about some of the issues that were frustrating me as a young minister. "I have a lot of old people in my church, many of whom want me to visit them more than I can. And when I don't come often enough, they complain to my church council." He smiled, shook his head and said, "That's bullshit - and you need to tell them that while you love them they need to get a life. You were NOT called by God to take away their loneliness. If they don't have any friends, ask them why?" And then he said something that was clarifying: "You could visit them every week and that still wouldn't be enough because they are empty inside. And it isn't your job to fill them, ok?"

+ Fourth do NOT give in to triangulation - on any level in the church - it is always bullshit. If people complain to others about you, insist that they bring it to your face and tell you in person. Refuse to open anonymous letters or email. Teach your leaders not to give in to gossip or triangulation either because it is deadly. How did Jesus put it about conflict in the community in Matthew 18? 

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Not everyone will do this, but if we don't insist upon this behavior from our leaders and allies in a church, the bullshit will overwhelm you - and you have no one to blame but yourself.

+ And fifth, without a loving but essentially neutral confessor or confidant, we are likely to delude ourselves from facing and owning our shadow. Not only is that professionally unhealthy, it makes us prisoners of the bullshit. "If we always do what we've always done, then we'll always get what we've always got." I like the old saying that "even the Pope has a confessor." All of us - clergy and laity - need the wisdom and perspective of someone who loves us enough to tell us the truth. 


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