Posts Tagged ‘Community’

53dc9ad853199-fullI haven’t quite figured out how to say what I want to say here.  It’s just not coming out right.  So I’ll start by saying these three things that I think are absolutely true:

First, there is no excuse for the Parkland shooter.  What he did was evil and horrible.

Second, we cannot have a conversation about mass shootings that only looks at mental illness and not at gun availability, gun sales, or our culture that idolizes violence.

And finally, when we talk about mental illness or mental health in these tragic situations, we need to start being more specific.

Because not all mental illness is the same.  And we further stigmatize it when that’s (now) all that we talk about after a mass shooting.

In fact, there are over 200 different classified forms of mental illness.

And every time we have mass shooting in this nation, pundits and politicians and talking heads start pontificating about “mental illness,” as this generic, scary thing lurking in the dark corners of the classroom, of the internet, of the backstreets of America far from where normal, happy, and healthy people live.

And the problem with all of this is that many children (and adults), who would never pick up a gun and never hurt anyone, live with mental illness.  And more and more are being diagnosed with mental illness at an earlier age…using that term (because that’s what it is)…and so they hear all this mess and it heaps loads of shame upon them.

Depression is mental illness.

Bi-polar disorder is mental illness.

ADD and ADHD are forms of mental disorders.

Anxiety disorders are forms of mental illness.

Schizophrenia is mental illness.

PTSD is mental illness.

Dementia, even, is mental illness.

The Greek word for “desert” is eremos, which literally means “abandonment.”  And for many people, living with a mental illness already feels a bit like a desert experience, like you’re alone and abandoned and no one understands quite what you’re going through.

And to trumpet this as the cause behind these mass shootings, well, it’s just not the full case, and doing so just intensifies that desert experience for many.  It further stigmatizes an already stigmatized illness.

And if we can’t talk about banning gun sales because not all gun owners and not all guns are the same, then we can’t talk about all mental illness as being the same.

(And don’t even get me started on the phrase “nut job” being in the same sentence as mental illness…which I heard from one politician.)

And today I heard calls for people to report “trouble children,” and news reports continually use the word “loner” when talking about him, and I’m not sure what to do with that.  If more energy was put into befriending and including and lifting up these so-called trouble or loner children, we’d probably be better off.

Sure, we should report any activity, online or otherwise, that fantasizes about mass murders (which this individual did…and authorities knew about).  And of course if a kid is talking about shooting up a place, we need to tell someone (which he did…and the authorities knew about it).

But, if you ask me, instead of looking for so-called loners, look for kids (and adults) with unhealthy idealizations of war, first-player shooting game obsessions (especially if they can talk to others online without parental supervision), unquestioned racism and bigotry, and unaddressed tragedy in the home or in the heart…these are probably more accurate indications of brooding unrest than just being a “loner.”

If you ask me, we should start talking about how we, as a society, have become violence voyeurs.

All of this is more troubling than having “weird kids” being singled out. So let’s not go reporting every kid who is quiet in class, wears black instead of blazing colors, likes to write and read and play role-playing games just yet…

All of my church’s research on youth ministry hammers home that the more adults that are active and involved in a child’s life, the more that child will feel cared for and accepted.  It’s not just peers, and even probably not primarily about peers (though peer-love is necessary), but active adults.

Active adults who can change the narrative of “you’re strange” and “you’re trouble” into the real truths that point out the good qualities of a youth, that reinforce their strength and creativity and courage.

And you want to talk about courage?  Talk to a kid who gets picked on every day at school but yet gets up the next morning and goes anyway.

Look, your parents may have mental illness.  Your pastors may have it. Your children may have it. Your spouse may have it.  You ma have it.  Mental illness is not some thing that people bring into “normal” society.

Mental illness is part of normal society.

There is no excuse for what this individual did. And it is clear he was ill in some way. But we all have to look in the mirror, too.

Our society has to look in the mirror.

And until we can all come to grips with the ways that our society hurts where it should help, alienates when it should alleviate loneliness, and ostracizes our children at the fringes, we’ll just keep stigmatizing mental illness, avoid talking about gun laws, and wait around as one so-called “nut job” after another amazingly reenacts the same scene over and over again.

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Why I Just Can’t…

Posted: February 7, 2018 in Current Events
Tags: , ,

5079516280_dd8c5d1fe2Folks, I can’t.

I try as much as possible to “live and let live,” but I just can’t do this anymore.

When a televangelist says that “You don’t need a flu shot if you have Jesus,” I just can’t.

I can’t let it go without saying something.

Jesus may be called “The Great Physician,” but good golly, get a flu shot. Kids are dying.

When a popular Christian website run by neo-Calvinist author (and, in my opinion, Biblical hack) John Piper tweets “We will find mental health when we stop staring in the mirror, and fix our eyes on the strength and beauty of God,” implying that somehow people who have mental illness are just “looking at things in the wrong way,” I just can’t.

I can’t let it go without saying something, because people are dying from mental illness and it’s not that they’re spiritually deficient.  This is ignorance on fire, a charge too many people are already giving to Christians…thanks for proving them correct.

And when we start walking lock-step in line with political candidates, of whatever party, and claim such obviously blasphemous statements like “God has put them in charge,” I just can’t anymore.

Vote for who you vote for and don’t try to blame the outcome on God, regardless of who you wanted to win.  You break the Second Commandment when you do so, by the way.

Did God put Hitler in charge of Germany?  What about Pol Pot in Cambodia?  No?  It’s only in the US that God puts people in charge? Well, then God must have it out for the Native Americans to put Andrew Jackson in charge.  Or for the Japanese Americans to put FDR in charge (we kindly forget about those prisons, don’t we?).

I just can’t, folks.

The church is wonderful and beautiful. We take care of one another and do good by the world.  We can change the world for good, too, by God.

But boy oh boy, when we are silent in the face of such ignorance. When we just say, “Well, we’re not like those Christians…” to the rest of the world without providing the counter argument, without calling those voices to be silent, by God…

And even more problematically, when we continue to go to these churches, buy their spiritual wares, and don’t confront our friends and relatives (and even those shadow places inside ourselves) who buy into all of this, we are just sending invitations to the spiritually-seeking-but-religion-skeptical friends to not bother with the Jesus story altogether.

I’m all for big tent Christianity, but I just can’t anymore.  I don’t know if I’m in a totally different tent, or no longer find myself in that tent, or am just making my own campsite…I can’t think that’s the case, but perhaps it is.

But what I do know is that will not be quiet about it, and I don’t want you to be, either.

Because people are dying.  Because the cross cannot be confused with Caesar and still be the cross we see on Golgotha, the cross we find in scripture.

Because Christianity cannot be a religion where “ignorance is on fire and intelligence is on ice” as author Brian McLaren so rightly says (The Great Spiritual Migration, pg 7).

And we can’t let it become that.

You can’t.

And I can’t.

loneliness_coverMy post on how your pastor is not your friend has called forth lots of emotions from people.

Some have rightly identified that loneliness is a problem for pastors, and they’re not wrong about that.  I don’t think anyone entering the ministry with eyes wide open will dispute the fact that the call to ministry is, in some ways, a call to embrace a certain amount of loneliness.

By this I don’t mean that depression is to go untreated.  This is a real problem for many service professions, pastors included.  We must take actions to counteract this terrible reality.

And by this I don’t mean that pastors should not have friends or cannot have friends, just that deep, personal friendships should rarely (if ever) be cultivated within the congregation.

I think the solution to combating loneliness within this particular profession is two-fold:

1. Pastors need to find ways to cultivate healthy relationships outside of the parish.

This is difficult to do.  Let’s be honest, many people see the church and the church community as part of their service work in the world.  Choir practice, helping at service opportunities, even sitting on the church board or on the evangelism team are opportunities for them to give to something that is not work or family related.

Pastors are usually not free with their time or energy to invest in something else.  Their focus is on making this particular thing work, and it usually requires the church to be not only their job but also their hobby/service to the world.

It is tough.  If we make it impossible for our pastor to find outside friendships because we expect them to be at everything, especially things happening on Saturdays when the rest of the professional world is largely “off,” then we’re setting them up for burn out and churn out.

Pastors have to have space and time to cultivate relationships outside of the parish.  The parish is not enough for them…will not be enough for them.

2. With all of the above being said, pastors also have to be honest about their role in the lives of people: they are the container of both promise and problem, the dead-end for words that can’t be spoken in other places and to other people, the scapegoat for troubled people’s troubles and the savior for other people desperately seeking something to save them in the world (and this last one is, of course, not a good thing…but it is a reality nonetheless).

In short: the way the pastor is seen in the profession, used in the profession, and abused in the profession will, naturally, lead to a certain amount of loneliness…and unless this is somehow embraced by them it will gnaw at the pastor and eat them up.

And we need not embrace it like a cross to bear, or as something that sets us apart or special or as an object of pity.  Please…as if anyone should seek pity.  And let me be clear: we need not embrace abuse.  Guard your heart and your mind and, yes, your relationships against the wayward person who sees you as the convenient dumping ground for all of their own insecurities and psycho-social issues.

That’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that it should be embraced kind of like your ordination vows, even the difficult ones, are embraced.  In fact, one of the vows we take in the Lutheran Church is not to give illusory hope to others.  Perhaps we, ourselves, need to take that to heart, too.

Illusory hope in this work would be to expect that this profession will provide you with friends.  Your friendship needs will not be met here, even if you seek it out…it will disappoint you.

Embrace it like you embrace the shadow part of your life: you swing punches at it even though you know it’ll always be there.

Wide-eyed, without apology, let us say that a certain amount of loneliness is just a part of this whole gig.

A pastor must do what they must to make sure that it doesn’t take more of a share than it’s supposed to.

handsThere has been quite a bit of chatter about my last blog post, so I thought I’d write a follow-up, an addendum, to clarify a bit of what I’m *not* saying.

I’m not saying that pastors are somehow “above” friendship.

I’m not saying that pastors don’t need friends.

And I’m not saying that pastors should be aloof or unfriendly.

In therapy circles we talk about the many different harbors we have in life, places where we take shelter.

What harbors do you have?  Here are some I’ve identified:

We have the harbor of our family of origin, those who raised us and (often) love us with an unconditional type of love.

We have the harbor of our close friends, a family of choice if you will, who provide the kind of filial love that we need to be fully actualized humans.

Some of us have the harbor of partners or spouses, a harbor that checks many different boxes on the needs chart.

We have the harbor of our closest friends, those intimate friendships where bonds are tighter than most any wind that can come along…most any wind.

And then we have the harbor of community, a place to belong and be loved in a communal way.

Now, just about every human needs almost all of these harbors to be fully actualized.  There are exceptions, of course.  Not everyone is called to be partnered/married.  And not everyone needs the harbor of a community past their family.  But, by and large, I think most humans need these particular harbors to be fully human.

Pastors included, of course.

But, depending on the issue that comes up in life, I would claim that not all of these harbors are *safe* harbors.  If you’re having trouble in your marriage, you shouldn’t go to your parents.  It’s not a safe harbor.  They are not unbiased.  You may receive the kind of love and comfort you desire, but it may not be the kind of love that will lead you to a resolution or an objective viewpoint.

When a pastor is looking for a safe harbor, a person to confide in, I would readily claim that a parishioner is not the port of call.  And can never be.

Categorically, can never be.  The relationship won’t work that way.

And this is what I mean when I say that your pastor is not your friend, at least not in the conventional sense of what deep friendship means: they can never confide in you.  Your relationship doesn’t provide them with a safe harbor.  There is always some distance necessary.

Most of the push back (most, not all) on my article has come from people in congregations who certainly feel their pastor is their friend.  In many ways, yes, they are right…in many senses of the word friend, they might in fact be “friendly.”

But if you cornered your pastor about whether or not they could confide in you, if you asked them clearly about the nature of your relationship, I would bet that they would be honest and admit that you’re not a safe harbor.

Because if you want your pastor to be a safe harbor, it can’t be any other way.

And look, I have lots of examples where this has messed people up, messed churches up, messed pastors up. I’ve encountered many people quite cold to their current pastor because they felt so close, so “friends” with the predecessor, even a sense of loyalty if you will, that it causes trouble, it causes deep confusion, some real hurt, and plenty of pain on all sides.

It is not a safe harbor in the end.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have deep conversations, honest conversations, deep affection, and real love between pastors and parishioners.  That is all absolutely there.

But if the pastor is getting their friendship needs met by parishioners, they do so at the peril of the office, and the peril of that person continuing in the congregation after they leave the office.

In fact, I wonder what leads more pastors to depression: pastors realizing they can’t seek a safe harbor in their parishioners, or pastors who seek parishioners as safe harbors but then realize it didn’t work; it wasn’t safe?

Pastors need friends.  They need safe harbors.  And congregants need pastors who know that they cannot be it.

 

*Disclaimer.*

dog collarI’m not wanting to be rude or put anyone off by this statement.  And this doesn’t come out of any recent personal issue or encounter.  And this is certainly not some sort of passive-aggressive way to get a point across to someone I’m reluctant to talk to in person.  That would just be bad behavior.

But this is a consistent point of confusion for many, and so I think it deserves a little blog article, and discussion if you wish.

*End Disclaimer*

Your pastor is not your friend.

It’s hard, because they feel like they are.

And this is not a hard and fast rule, by the way.  Some pastors do make a friend in the congregation, someone they can absolutely be themselves with.

But that needs to be rare.  It may not always be rare…and then things get fuzzy…but I believe it *needs* to be rare, for you and for them.

Because here’s the truth: you’re one day going to have to tell them something that you can’t tell a friend.  Something about yourself, a deep truth, that maybe only your best friend might know, but they’re not going to give you what you need about the topic because they’re too enmeshed in your friendship.

In that case you need a pastor.  You need some abstraction.  You need someone close enough to you to care, someone with some sort of authority, but also someone far enough away from you that they’re not going to hold it as the primary thing they know about you.

Pastors are trained in the art of not hearing what we hear.

People sometimes worry that a pastor’s view of them will be tainted by something they learn or know, but I assure you, we learn and know so much about everyone that we’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is just as messed up as everyone else, ourselves included, so no one is any different.  The CEO of the huge corporation with boats and houses is just as dissatisfied as the person living paycheck to paycheck, they’re just unhinged at a different point in their personhood…

By and large you need your pastor to be a pastor, not a friend, and your pastor is not your friend if they’re doing it well.

Plus, your pastor can never confide in you the way one confides in a friend.

They can’t.

I sit stone-faced in situations where people talk about one another.  My opinion in that situation may not be neutral, but it has to appear to be, because I probably have to be that person’s pastor, no matter my opinion of them.

Your pastor is not your friend.

There are certain exceptions, of course: childhood friendships, close bonds, ways we can compartmentalize our relationships that work in very specific situations.

But it’s not the norm. It can’t be the norm.  If it becomes the norm your pastor is no longer able to be your pastor.

Plus, if you and your pastor are friends, then your pastor can never leave.  As if leaving a parish isn’t hard enough, the idea of leaving not only parishioners but also friends makes it impossible. Co-dependent. Bad for vocation and bad for any avocations you now share.

This doesn’t mean you don’t kid around with your pastor. It doesn’t mean that you don’t drop by to say hi, that you don’t do things for one another that friends do.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t even sometimes take trips together, play sports, attend birthday parties, and have a beer or two…many of these things that friends do with one another.

And it certainly doesn’t meant that you don’t share many of the same qualities you would with friends.  Pastors can open up, to a point.  Pastors can kid around, to a point.  But everything is “to a point” and that point is exactly where the collar hits what you need from them…

In every situation, they are “pastor”…which is just a very different way of being than just “friend.”

And finally, one thing we have to be really clear-eyed about: friendships end.  They do.  Friends fight and squabble, hurt each other’s feelings, get jealous, and get enmeshed.  Pastors who become friends run the risk of ruining the pastoral relationship when the friendship dissolves.

This is just plain bad for the office.  It’s a bad risk to take.  It’s a risk, I think, not worth taking.

We’re not the only profession that suffers from this fuzziness.

One of my very best friends is a doctor.  I casually ask him for medical advice sometimes, but if push came to shove he’d refer me to someone else for serious diagnosis…we’re too close for him to be my doctor.  My best friend is a financial adviser. I ask him for financial advice sometimes, but he can’t manage my money.  We’re too close for that.

It’s hard to explain I guess, and hard to accept in some instances, but I really haven’t found any other way to put it:

Your pastor is your pastor, not a friend.

Gods-Politics-0921I offer this as the news of DACA being rescinded is officially hitting the news.  No matter what your views on immigration are, we must be honest about the nature of DACA and its dissolution: it is cruel to ensure a future to people who didn’t ask to be here and then take it away.

But for those who are for it’s dissolution, and for everyone else, I have to be honest with you about how hard (impossible?) it must be to be a Christian and a politician, despite what the voters want you to say about your religious tradition.

I have a hunch we have a bunch of functioning atheists on our hands most days, not just in Washington, but everywhere.  And count me in that mix most days, if I’m brutally honest.

But for those who are calling for “law and order” when it comes to this issue, or any issue, I have to point you back to Jesus.  Not to the Bible, not to tradition, but to Jesus.

Look, on the one hand I get it: we are under the assumption that that law is how we order ourselves in this country.  And in many ways, this is true.  Laws are how we find norms in our country as a society.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst kind of government, except for all the other kinds.”  He’s right.  So laws and democratic rule form our norms.

But for the Christian, laws are actually not the way we order ourselves, at least not ultimately.

I am happy to write out a long, well-reasoned post arguing the many reasons I think that it may be impossible for a politician to actually be a Christian in both profession and action.

Because the orienting factor for the Christian is not law qua law, but rather a law that is centered around the good and well being of people, especially people at the margins (because, you know, that’s where Jesus operated his ministry).

In other words, and to be timely, just because we have a law, does not mean that it is good for people, especially people on the margins of society.

And so the politician who is being honest about their faith does not orient themselves to defending the law, the Constitution, or even (gasp) some historical idea of Jesus that is undoubtedly burdened by the trappings of religiosity.

The politician who is being honest about their faith must orient themselves toward the people Jesus oriented himself toward: the weak, the sick, the vulnerable, the poor, the oppressed, those in need physically, socially, and yes, spiritually.

People tell me that they think it must be hard to be a Christian politician.  Usually they mean by this that they think a Christian politician can’t be honest about their faith because, well, they don’t allow you to pray in school (which they do, by the way, they just don’t let people in power tell others how to pray).

I agree with them: it must be hard to be a Christian and a politician.  But not because I think Christians are somehow oppressed in this country or context, though they certainly are in others…and we must not forget that.

No, I think it’s hard to be a Christian politician in these days because to live out your faith would cost you re-election (or even election in the first place).  Because you’d have to be focusing your votes and your policies not on what’s popular, but on policies that watch out for the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger, the marginalized.

You’d have to focus yourself on graceful living and loving as being the norm for your work.  Not the idea of grace and love, but the actual practice of it.

In short: you’d have to be human-focused rather than law-focused.

And as someone who might one day run for office, I offer this as an honest confession. It may be impossible to be a Christian and a politician.

My parents are in Scotland and Ireland right now, experiencing the land of my foremothers and forefathers.  My people came from the cold coasts of those islands back in the 1800’s.  They came from yonder and non, and down the line sprung me, and yet so much of my life is oriented around the assumption that I somehow earned a right to be here just because my family has been here for a hundred years.

I didn’t earn this; I won this lottery.

And how difficult it must be for people who win the lottery, but have forgotten they have, to interact with others who haven’t in a way that honors that fact.

I guess I might close by saying that, the Christian’s call is to follow Christ, which would mean giving up their lottery in many ways.

Because the lottery of God is one where everyone gets the same prize.  And, man, that must be hard to follow as a politician.

 

 

2721032_1408333739618_acee1eadStart-ups are motivated by possibility and imagination.  They’re not just reacting to what’s going on around them, they’re forming what’s going forward.

Start-ups are interested in perfecting one or two things that they’re doing, while dreaming of that one next thing.  They’re not trying to be everything to everyone, becoming bogged down in propping up the part of their enterprise that is flailing.

Churches should behave like start-ups.  All churches, not just new churches.

Now, I get it…you don’t like comparing a church to a business model.  I don’t like the comparison much, either.  But let’s not pretend that we don’t have something to learn here.  Churches *should* excel at implementing metaphor to everyday life (looking at you, parables), so let’s metaphorically explore this, OK?

Start-ups respond to imagination; establishment responds to fires.  If you don’t spend more time on what you can do than what you used to do, you’re not responding to imagination.  Big establishment brands have just that: a brand.  But they’re constantly having to try something new to keep the brand and keep the edge (think New Coke). They’re constantly putting out fires to maintain the status quo, instead of starting new fires of inspiration.

“Thing kingdom of God is like yeast,” Jesus said, “which leavens the whole loaf.”

The yeast starts a fire in the loaf, and try as it may, the loaf can’t help but react.

Be the yeast, young grasshopper…not the loaf.

Instead of trying to keep the brand, though, why not just make innovation and imagination part of the “brand?”  Google has successfully done this (so far), as has Apple. It is possible to change the narrative, but you have to respond to dreams rather than fear.  Which brings me to my next point…

Start-ups dream and have faith; establishments fear. Once you get power, you long to stay in power.  Once you become the biggest, your quest becomes about staying the biggest.  One of the terrible things about being a start-up is the uncertainty factor of the future.  But if a start-up moves into the establishment phase, they quickly learn that the uncertainty factor never fully leaves, it just changes into fear: fear that you’ll lose market share or newness or what have you.

And so the trick, then, is to ignore the uncertainty altogether and rely on innovation and potential as your main motivator.

This doesn’t mean you don’t heed advice or warning signs in a failing endeavor.  If anything, leaning on potential and dreams will hopefully spur you to do some due diligence and research before setting out on the next new adventure you undertake.  But when big establishment thinking entrenches a system, it becomes about big conservation strategies, big consolidation efforts, and big risk-aversion…which leads to big death.

Jesus said that we are to give of ourselves for others (Matt 16:24). Which might mean that the current decline of the church might just be a sign that we’re starting to understand what Jesus means.  I’m not saying that size is indicative of discipleship (though I’ve made a claim smelling like that before), but I am saying that if we’re failing to risk on reaching out because we’re afraid it will change things and change us (and our church culture/habits/etc.), then we’re probably adopting fear rather than faith as our motivating impulse.

Start-ups make history; establishment protects history. Well, sort of.

Look: the history of your church is important.  Your church has done a lot of good in the neighborhood.  It has changed peoples lives.  It has provided a spiritual home.  Perhaps it has been a change-agent in the footsteps of Jesus for your community.  None of that can or should be denied.

But if your church is going to continue to do good in the neighborhood, to change lives, to be a spiritual home, to be a change-agent, it can’t be trying to lift up its past as some sort of golden-age of life.  Every living thing has a life cycle.  But if you want to hasten a demise, start pining for the past.

Start-ups don’t have hang-ups about the past because they don’t have one to be hung up on.  No matter how long your church has been at the corner of First and Fairbanks, every day it has a ministry opportunity that was not present yesterday, and so while it has a past, it also has tons of potential futures.  That is what you focus on, by God.

Look, I have the unfortunate lot in this work of being stuck in the post-boom years of churchgoing.  I call it unfortunate only because so many people lift up the 50’s as the standard of how churches should be and operate in America.  If you look at the 50’s, where civil religion and the church walked hand-in-hand post World War II, you’ll see an anomaly, not a norm, when it comes to church participation.

If you want a norm, check out church attendance from the 30’s.  There’ll you’ll see kind of a plumb-line.

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And, can I be honest?  While church attendance in the 50’s and 60’s may have been high, poll folks around my age and ask them if they think the society they’ve inherited is utopian.  Turns out that church attendance may not directly correlate to societal health.

Churches of the mainline: hold on to your past loosely and embrace the dreams of the future.  Innovate. Explore. Jesus calls this out of you more than anything because it’s what we need now more than anything.

In other words: be the yeast, not the loaf.