While I can receive ninety and nine compliments, it’s the one complaint that I ruminate on and chase after. When I’m lying in bed, sleep eluding me, it’s not the memories of love, admiration or the friendship of others that float into my head. It’s the mistakes and moments of shame I’m bust conjuring like angry spirits. The worst-case scenario sticks to us like velcro, and our tendency to believe the worst affects everything, even how we believe.
I stopped my thoughts before they escaped into words, checking their pockets for hidden slights or contraband foolishness. I might not even say them at all… Just to be safe. There was too much chance they might offend. And who knows what would happen to the eternal soul of some poor listener if I unwittingly ruined the Good News of God with some imperfect pronouncement?
My actions went through the same rigor. I scrupulously weighed them in light of how they might affect my witness to God. I had come to believe that I was the only bible some people would ever read, and that weight was enormous. In my mind, how well I seemed to keep the imperatives of the bible (and those inferred and tacked on by various other Christians for good measure) was indicative of how many people I could lead to Jesus.
I wish someone had told me that my goodness wasn’t the Good News.
The Strangest Thing Happened… Continue reading
I’m tired of telling people how to be good people. When I do it, I feel like I’m preying on the low self-esteem of those who just want to do the right thing and are berated for inevitably failing. When I tell them how to do the right thing in the right way, I’m just preaching the law to those in need of grace. Sometimes I feel like I’m just encouraging the lie that if people get their acts together, God might deign to throw some acceptance their way.
In that scenario–at best–I’m a self-help guru, not a pastor. When we become exclusively obsessed with morality and getting better, we become self-proclaimed culture warriors, and the pulpit just becomes a pedestal from which we throw out weekly gripes at the audience: Too much side-boob on television, a gay guy sold me my coffee, kids these days! Clang, clang, clang.
We all have this place inside of us where we store it all. The socially unacceptable, the irreligious ideas, the things that would lose friends and uninspire people. Questions, worries and doubts that we know we can’t share, but ache to say. That place is quickly cramped and uncomfortable, tearing at its seams.
It’s hard for me to find a church. I want to, but when I go, I just end up leaving angrier than when I came. The judgment. The silly rules. The passive-aggressive jabs. It’s weird when you’ve been on the inside. You see things more clearly. Know all the abominable tricks.
A pastor acquaintance of mine once came in and collapsed into the chair across from where I was sitting with another friend. He looked at us and said, “I’m done. I don’t want to be a pastor anymore.” He was tired of wearing the masks. I told him, “Don’t play the games,” but I wasn’t that religious about it. I think he thought I was joking—or that I was crazy. (I get that sometimes.) But I was deadly serious.
Being sad and vulnerable is generally seen as a negative thing. So much so that me offering to disagree with that assessment is probably looked at askance. I think that’s largely because we have no idea how to comfort people, so we try to bully them out of their pathos: “You look so pathetic.” “It can’t be that bad.” “You don’t need Prozac. You just need Jesus!” So, on top of already feeling like crap, because of being made to feel wrong for feeling like crap, we also experience a nebulous guilt about feeling like crap. But, I offer the hope that, perhaps, being pathetic isn’t such a bad thing after all.
We hear about sinners sinning and we shake our heads and cluck our tongues. The fires await them, we think. Then we bury our heads in our bibles and smile at how very holy we are. We attack people who practice homosexual behavior and all those people more “liberal” than we are as if they had erupted from a crack traveling up from hell itself. And we feel satisfied with ourselves, and sing our songs and thank our God we’re not like them.