Saturday, June 3, 2017

I Love the Trees

photo by D. Mercer
In Idabel, I loved walking among the trees near my home. Tall pines felt like older siblings watching over me as I walked on a carpet of needles and cones.  At the right time of year, pecan trees left a snack on the ground for me to munch.  Others offered full leaves to shade me in the summer and dazzle me with their colors in the fall.  In the winter, they showed their bare forms like not so shy maidens disrobed for their men’s admiration. In the spring they garbed themselves with colored blossoms.    

I lived among trees when I was a child but was soon taken to live in the plains, where I spent most of my life. Once I was back with them I realized how much I missed them.   

In the politics of my southern culture, “tree hugger” is a disparaging term, but I think I really am one of those people. I know for sure that trees have held and hugged me.  When I was little, I would play among them and climb into the crook of my favorite to read a book.

photo by D. Mercer
What if all things, animate and otherwise, are connected spiritually? Science tells us that there is a constant exchange of atoms and molecules in which we all participate, sharing unseen particles with each other right now as well as with those of the past and future. What if connection goes even deeper than that and we are actually a part of each other? I may walk among trees, but I am also a part of the trees and the trees are a part of me. Jesus once prayed for oneness: “I in thee, and thee in me, and they in us.” Would that oneness include not only persons but also the trees, soil, air, sea, and stars?
 
It’s such a great thought and I love entertaining it. But if it’s true, why do we get so lonely? Is it possible to simply change our state of awareness so we can enjoy oneness with everything? 

photo by D. Mercer


Friday, June 2, 2017

I Was Lonely

by David Mercer
In my journals which I've written all my adult life, one of the things I said repeatedly since the beginning is how lonely I was.

If I was once your minister, please don’t feel guilty. You didn’t know and you didn’t cause this. I’m telling it now because I hurt people when I left the ministry and I feel that I owe them some explanation.  Also, perhaps it will help people understand the systemic problems of church that cause pastors to be lonely. Believe me, I’m not the only pastor who feels this way. 

First, we have to move frequently. We don’t have time to form bonds and if we do, we have to leave them behind when we go to the next assignment.

Second, small town pastors are always outsiders. We didn’t grow up with you. We don’t share your history. We’re not your family. If you are nice enough to invite us to your house during family gatherings at holidays, we’re uncomfortable. Additionally, we often don't have the time or resources to visit our own families.

Third, it costs too much to be friends with the pastor. If you had tried to get close to me you might have gotten hurt by church politics. Someday I’ll write at length about that but for now I’ll just say that most of the few friends I’ve made along the way… they don’t go to church anymore. 

I always said that loneliness is just part of the job that a minister endures.  But as I got older I became unhappier and lonelier, and I just couldn't endure it anymore. 

I had no one to talk to. Every week, sometimes twice a week, I slipped away to talk to a counselor, which helped a lot but not enough to make up for the isolation.  I couldn’t tell anyone of my personal problems. I couldn’t talk about my theological struggles. I couldn’t talk about my problems at work.

I just ran out of resources to cope. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is This What an Empath Is?

I don’t have mystical or psychic abilities but I possess qualities that would identify me as an empath.   

At church, when I greeted people, I surveyed their faces. Was there sadness or fatigue in the eyes? Were there worried frowns behind the smiles? Or were they masking everything over? When I shook their hands, I noted the strength in the grip, the temperature, and whether they had a wedding band. If I hugged someone I gauged their vitality and shared some of mine with them.   I listened to the tone of voice and I paid attention to the nuance of their words. I did a quick survey from head to foot. I saw tattoos, jewelry, and state of dress. It's not that I cared how well they dressed--I was looking for signs as to how they were.

I did this outside of church, too, at restaurants and the grocery store.  There were often many encounters within a short amount of time.  Once, someone accompanied me to the Walmart and commented later, “Within fifteen minutes you met with eight people, all of whom told you significant things about themselves.” That was normal for me.

I absorb people’s feelings. I feel their sadness and pain. I enjoy their happiness, too, but mostly I feel the angst.  When I visited the hospitals, I often felt their symptoms while I was with patients. 

Sometimes, especially at funerals, I'd get overwhelmed when I stood in front of a crowd and felt their collective vulnerabilities and it would all slam into me as I gathered my thoughts.

I’ve done this all my life and it helped me be a good minister.  Nobody forced this on me. It’s who I am and what I do. But there were periods when it all bore down on me like a great weight, and it would feel like any minute my knees would give out and I’d crumble to the floor. I don’t think people noticed except maybe other empaths. I could hide it because I was cheerful and talkative, but inside I was wearing out.

During this last year, I’ve rested and reevaluated, and I’m learning to develop the ability to protect myself so I can continue to function. Additionally, I’m finding things that replenish me. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

ER Visit and a Wedding

I stopped just after I entered through the door. The emergency room was bustling with nurses and patients.  I turned around to leave but then I stopped again.  I was still standing in the entrance when the attendant at the counter noticed me.

“May I help you?” she asked.

“I… don’t know if I really have an emergency,” I stammered.

“What’s the problem, sir?”

“My chest hurts… and…” And then I started crying and couldn’t stop. 

It became a blur at that point. I remember a nurse came and guided me to a room. She spoke softly as she took my blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Then she pasted a bunch of electrodes all over my chest and back.  She left the room saying the doctor would see me as soon as he could.  She came back to check on me a couple of times. 

It wasn’t my heart. It was an anxiety attack.  I’d been having them often, only not as severe. Before I left my job at the church I had one every Sunday morning before people arrived for the service.  My chest and head would pound, I couldn’t breathe, and I’d get dizzy and nauseated.  I knew it was anxiety so I tamped it down by focusing on the people in front of me.  But that weekday the pain in my chest came and wouldn’t go away.  In fact it became worse which is why I went to the ER.

It was embarrassing. I hated telling anyone that I was panicking when there was no emergency.  On the other hand, I guess I was having an ongoing emergency and my heart was in pain as I faced major changes in my home and career. 

Late in the afternoon they took all the electrodes off me and told me to go home and relax.

That next week, a young couple who didn’t attend my church asked me to perform their wedding.  They came to my office and we discussed the particulars of the ceremony.  When I asked what they did for a living, the woman surprised me when she said she was a nurse at the ER.

“Did you see me when I was there last week?” I asked. 

She nodded. I felt the embarrassment and I didn’t know what to say.  I was the pastor giving advice and instruction yet she had seen me as a blubbering mess. 

“Are you comfortable,” I said, “with my doing your ceremony?”

She smiled and said, “Sure, if you are.”

We continued the session.  A few weeks later I performed the wedding.  As I had her repeat the vows, my memory came back and I realized she was the nurse who actually took care of me. 

After the service I hugged her and said, “I didn’t remember you until just now.”

She understood. 

If I were still a minister I might tack on a verse or spiritual observation at this point.  But really… I got nothing.  I wrote this so people would understand how bad I was feeling when I left. But I also wrote so I wouldn’t forget that a person I was assigned to help had already helped me.   

Friday, May 26, 2017

Just a Gringo from Texas

“Don’t take this the wrong way, man,” the middle school student said, “but you talk Spanish like a Gringo.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I talk English like a Texan… y’all.

In Orlando, we have many cultures living next to each other.  People from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, France, England, Vietnam, Korea, China….   And then there are all those strange-talking foreigners from the north like New York, Chicago, and Idaho (hey, if you’re not from Texas you’re a foreigner to us).

Kidding aside, it’s a splendid place to live where the cultures weave themselves in a vibrant tapestry.  But it’s complicated. I try to pay attention but I don’t understand everything I see and hear. 

The other day, I was substitute teaching in a rowdy class.  One kid started throwing a partially filled water bottle into the air, trying to get it to land right side up—a popular physics experiment repeated over and over in schools.  I politely asked him to stop. He looked at me, smiled, and gave it another toss.  I became less polite and yelled at him and he looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  I was sure he’d lost his.

There was no lesson plan for the class. I didn’t even know the subject. In fact, it was several minutes before I figured out that none of them spoke English.  I then realized that the boy hadn’t understood my directive and he didn’t know why I yelled at him. 

When I had a moment, I went to him and asked, “Hablas Ingles?” 

photo by David Mercer
He shook his head. 

I pointed to the water bottle, put my hand on my chest, and said, “Lo  siento… I’m sorry.” And then he really looked bewildered.  But it was the best I could do.

The class was a disaster complete with kinetic mayhem along with screeching and a fight. 

I didn’t get around to taking roll until the end of class. It was a laborious task with names difficult to pronounce and the kids weren’t answering me anyway.  But the boy to whom I apologized came and stood next to me. He helped me read the names and together we got the job done.  I thanked him and he gave me a terrific smile.

It gives me pause.  A Texan who can’t speak Spanish and a Puerto Rican boy who spoke no English found an opportunity within a misunderstanding to be gracious to each other. It turned a bad day into a good memory. 

Y’all have a good day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I Was Tired

“I don’t think any of us knew how tired you were,” my friend said after I moved away. I didn't realize at first how right he was.  

When I arrived in Orlando, I thought I’d find a job right away, but in fact I stayed inside with the lights off and couldn’t move for days which turned into weeks. And I cried every day.

The secrets wore me down. I didn’t dare discuss my thoughts and doubts with anyone. I hid how unhappy I was. I called on every ounce of strength to present myself the cheerful, energetic preacher. I didn’t always succeed.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I’ve been tired most of my life.  I was always able to mentally move aside the fatigue and move on but it took its toll on my health as I got older. 

Now, Sylvia takes care of me. She fed me good food and took me to hear good music. We went to the beach and I walked on the shore where the cool water washed my feet and the waves established a new rhythm inside me.

I’m better. My health issues are fading. I’m able to rest.  For the first time in years I sleep through the night. 

I reflect a lot on what led me to this moment even as I begin living again. I still cry every day but it doesn’t last as long.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Last Church Was Wonderful

I had to leave because I was exhausted and because my beliefs changed. But I didn’t leave because people were mean to me.
   
Idabel FUMC, photo by David Mercer
At some point, I want to discuss the unhealthy dynamics of religious culture, but first I want to speak of the last church I served before I left ministry.  Plenty of churches behave poorly in extreme times, and I’m sorry to say that it’s quite true that they “shoot their wounded.” But the church in Idabel was different.   When I got divorced, people expressed their love for both me and my ex-wife, which is unusual. When I told them I needed to leave the ministry, they were kind and generous.

We weren’t perfect in our church.  We had our conflicts.  But we did good work together.  And when I needed it most, they were there for me.

I will always love the First United Methodist Church of Idabel, OK.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Am I a Hypocrite?

“I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?
--Mother Teresa,


Faith is not an either/or proposition. People often have powerful faith without sensing the presence of God—that’s why they call it faith.  People can speak of light yet feel they’re in darkness. People have doubts but they continue to live in service to a God who may not seem real.

Are they hypocrites? Was I?

I felt like one at times. However, I tried to stay truthful in my ministry. Occasionally, in the classroom and the pulpit, I shared my doubts and struggles. I taught from the scriptures. I represented the church doctrine. I helped people as often as I could. And I did it as a follower of Jesus.

Can a person struggle with doubts and be a minister at the same time?  A lot of them do.  After Mother Teresa died, her letters and journals revealed that although she was a highly regarded religious leader who led the cause to feed the hungry, she did not feel the presence of the God.

That’s how I felt, too, although no one is clamoring for me to be declared a saint.  But to the very best of my ability I pushed aside my doubt and did the work.

People who are deeply spiritual have often endured the “dark night of the soul,” a condition where God seems to disappear.  I think some eventually rediscover a holy presence, but the light just never came back for me. Or for Mother Teresa, who persevered in her service until death. 

I feel like I died, too, only I’m still breathing. However, I also feel that I’ve gained a new life.  I’ll be speaking of that soon.    

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Silent Reckoning

Photo by Sylvia Kirkendoll Mercer
I finally admitted to myself that while I prayed constantly, God never answered back. No words came to me. The feelings I experienced were my own.  And the events that happened after I prayed had only the meaning I attributed to them. 

It was painful.  I had poured out my life in service to someone who did not find me worthy of a response.

Friends tried to encourage me, saying that perhaps God is so great that I simply could not understand his communication. I accepted this thought for most of my life.  But I came to the conclusion that if God was all powerful, surely he could find a way to get through to me. (BTW, the story of God sending his Son is not direct communication, either). 

In one of my final one sided conversations with this unseen, unheard entity, I said “I will continue to care for people and do the things I assume are important to you because they’re important to me, too. If you decide someday to talk to me about that, I’m right here.”  As usual, I got no response but I quit expecting one and I went about my work. 

I still prayed publicly for the sake of my people.  I reflected their thoughts and hopes.  And I relied on the liturgies written by others. But my personal outpouring stopped.


God has remained silent, too.    

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Death and Dry Bones

I loved being a minister. The job fed my soul and drained it at the same time. I don’t think I can go back.  I want to try to explain but it’s going to take some time.  The following is just one of the reasons I’m done. 

The minister helps people cope with death.  I’ve been at scenes where death occurred violently and I’ve also stood in dark houses or hospital rooms and watched people slip away while loved ones cried and kissed them. More than once I heard someone sing softly into the dying person’s ear.  Another time I heard a woman scream at her man not to die on her but he did anyway. 

I was often present when someone found out that a loved one died. I actually delivered the message on a few occasions. If the loss was sudden such as in an accident, the message would have to be repeated three times before it sunk in. 

I visited the homes before the funeral service, often just watching as family members came in from out of town. Fast decisions had to be made. Errands had to be done. At some point, I would interrupt the activity and gather them together to talk about the service and I would ask them for memories of their loved one.  Often, they didn’t know what to tell me so I learned to let them talk to each other and I would listen to them trade their stories.

Funeral dinners at the church were uncomfortable for me because while the family ate and visited, I usually sat out of the way at a separate table. It’s not that I was disliked or unwelcome. I just wasn’t one of the family. Often I avoided eating altogether by being busy with setting up the service.

At a funeral, if everything goes right, there's a certain progression.  Friends trickle in and take their seats. I  have them stand and watch the family enter and sit down.  The music plays, the tears flow, and people reach across the pews to touch each other. I speak words that I hope will comfort them. Sometimes the message is effective enough to help the people reach inside themselves to find their strength.  As I help them review the life that had passed I realize that I have missed out on someone special, and I feel the loss even if I hadn’t known the person

At the end when the people filed past the casket, I shook hands or hugged them, trying not to look like a politician cultivating votes. The hardest moments were watching the family members say their final goodbyes to the body. They’d literally hold each other up as they sobbed. 

My office was usually quiet after the service and most of the time, I would simply pack up and go home. My family wouldn’t know what I had experienced and they would go about their activities while I sank into my chair or lay down on the bed. I’m not sure I actually processed the events. It’s more like I let it all settle quietly into my bones.

After thirty-five years, sometimes it feels like all of their sobs and wails echo in my mind.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bloody Love

“God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”

The older I get, the less I can accept this idea. When my own sons were born, I discovered a depth of love that I didn’t know I had and I went a little crazy thinking about how to care for them. They’re grown now but I would still fight tigers, armies, and hurricanes to protect my sons. I have cried in frustration and shame when I failed to care for them adequately.

How am I supposed to respond to a heavenly father who hands his child over to be sacrificed and says he did it for me?

Child sacrifice. It's an old concept where cultures thought it would protect them from disaster or perhaps give them a good harvest. Butcher a child, sacrifice a virgin, throw someone into the mouth of a volcano, and the village would be saved. Nowadays we know better and we understand that human sacrifice is reprehensible.

Except when God does it. For some reason, we don’t say it’s awful. Instead we say it’s beautiful—a gesture of God’s love and we sing lovely songs about it.

We especially sing of the blood of Jesus spilled on our behalf.

There is a fountain filled with blood.
Are you washed in the blood?
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood.
Oh, the blood of Jesus!

But wait, there’s more! We have a special ceremony, a commemorative meal, where the bread is his body and wine is his blood. Some Christians say it miraculously changes to actual flesh and blood as it enters us. “Take this body, take this blood,” we say, "remember what was done for you and be grateful.”

No.

No more.

I do not accept.

I do not celebrate the blood of anyone’s child.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Is The Story of Jesus' Resurrection True? You Decide

Mark’s gospel is the earliest account of Jesus’ life, and includes details left out in others' accounts. However, it comes to an abrupt end. 

Two days after Jesus was crucified, three women went to the tomb to attend to his body.  When they arrived, they saw the stone rolled away from the entrance and a young man waiting for them.  He told them Jesus was not there and that he was alive again. The last sentence of Mark's gospel says that the women left the tomb bewildered and afraid. 

That it. That’s where it ends.  An empty tomb. 

Evidently, people were dissatisfied so two different endings were attached at later times. One was short; the other was longer and more detailed. Take your pick. There's been much discussion but most scholars think the endings are not part of the original text.

The writers of the later gospels changed the ending, too. Instead of one guy at the tomb there are two angels. John says Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and actually saw Jesus (she even hugged him). Then Jesus appeared to disciples in different places for the next forty days. A handful of those disciples watched him rise into the air and disappear into the heavens with a promise to return. 

But not Mark. The earliest account ends with fearful women looking at an empty tomb. If we look through the whole text we can see that it’s his style to end a story abruptly, leaving the reader to ask, “What happened? What does this mean?” I think he meant to challenge people to find answers within themselves. 

So…

You’re looking at an empty tomb and a stranger saying Jesus has risen from the dead.  What do you think?

A lot of preachers say, “Here’s what really happened, and this is what you should believe about it.” Many of them also say, “Everything is pointless until you agree that it actually happened.” If they refer to the later gospels, picking the passages carefully, they may find something to back up their assertions. 

But it boils down to this. A story is told that a long time ago, there was a great teacher who worked miracles. He was executed and became a martyr. But he didn’t stay dead and the evidence of his resurrection is an empty tomb. 

Did any of it happen? We don’t know. Did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. Is Jesus a deity worthy to be worshiped? You get to decide.

A lot of people have insisted it’s all true, including the parts that are added later.  They have the right to believe it. They also have the right to speak up and say they believe it. 

But they don’t have the right to force others to believe it. They don’t have the right to insist that it be taught as history in our schools.  They don’t have the right to legislate belief in any form. Even if they did have the right they still wouldn’t have the power, no matter how hard they try, to force someone to believe. 

Preachers can preach. Teachers can teach. Parents can read it to their children at bedtime.  Movies can depict the story with stirring music and graphic detail.  But none of that makes it true and people don’t have to accept it as such.


However, if you want to believe it, by all means do so. It’s your choice.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

I Didn't Kill Jesus

In recent years, this would have been a big week for me.  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  For a few years, the town’s musicians, especially the high school students would do a Dixieland Jazz style concert on Saturday at our church.  And then there was Easter Sunday with a Sunrise Service, breakfast, Egg Hunt, and Sunday School.  Then we had the big worship service where attendance would be high and we’d wear our best clothes and play our best music and I’d give my best effort at preaching.

This year, I thought I’d quietly skip the whole thing. But I can’t.

To begin, Good Friday is problematic for me.  It has been for a while but I couldn’t articulate what agitated me. 

Tonight a few preachers will give graphic descriptions of Jesus’ physical suffering, turning it into a CSI episode.  I hasten to say, however, that most preachers will be more restrained in their presentation.  Nonetheless, people will weep, often tapping into recent, more personal grief.  Many will also tap into the general guilt and anxiety most of us carry within, and they’ll find themselves feeling personally responsibility for Jesus’ suffering.

Our doctrine encourages that.   

I ignored my inner conflict and I played my part. Some years, I played the part of Jesus in church musicals and reenacted the crucifixion scenes.  Most years for Good Friday service, I’d have someone bang a hammer against metal to make people think of the nails driven in Jesus’ hands and feet. Or I’d have people come forward and hammer their own nails into a cross.  But my last group was too sensitive for that and it caused them too much pain. So I modified the ritual and had people come to the cross simply to touch it—that was powerful enough. 

Nowadays, I’ve become clearer in my objection to the “Atonement Model,” as some theologians call it. It’s the explanation that Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world.  This concept goes back to the priest Martin Luther. Before him was the monk Anselm, and earlier still was Bishop Augustine. Most of their thoughts are developed from Pauline passages of scriptures.  I understand how Paul, who reportedly murdered people for their faith, would be comforted by the thought that his sins were forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 

But I have a problem with it.  If God required a blood sacrifice to mollify his rage… well, it isn’t forgiveness, is it?  I also have a problem with making everyone take responsibility for the actions of a murderous mob, some  corrupt religious leaders, and two cowardly politicians of the day.  

I have done some bad things for which I take responsibility but I did not murder Jesus, and I won’t carry that burden anymore.  Nor will I put that burden on anyone else ever again.  I’m not telling any more children that it was their fault. I’m not telling decent people who work hard and do good things, that they should carry such a monumental burden of shame. 


I’m sorry that I did for so long. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Science and Religion

As a minister, who has been formally trained in theology and biblical texts, I've been sucked into the conflict between these two disciplines innumerable times and I'm sick of it.  

Anyone who insists that we should get our science from the Bible doesn't really understand the Bible, much less science. Anyone who discounts the Bible because it does not measure up to scientific discovery also does not understand the Bible.

Science and theology are two different disciplines pursuing two different directions. There is no competition between the two although occasionally we might see some overlap in topics.

For hundreds of years, we’ve been pitting faith against science and it has been a colossal waste of time, distracting us from doing actual good. Could we please go fight some real battles like famine, human trafficking, loneliness, violence, sickness, poverty, and ignorance? 

We could use both disciplines to make things better. Want to be a scientist? Be a thorough, honest one and quit spending time fighting the theologians. Are you a Christian? Then for Christ’s sake, do Christ’s work and stop trying to bully science with your religion.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where is Hope?


Hope lies within us.  It is part of that soulful mix that weaves the events of life into a tapestry that can be beautiful. It’s a tapestry of our making.  It isn’t waiting for us to discover it. It has to be composed with the raw elements of reality, using our creativity, optimism, and determination to make it meaningful. 

Hope doesn’t passively wait for life to get better. It’s an active ingredient within the person that makes life good.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Watching the Violence

The little boy clenched his fists as he took on an unfamiliar fighter’s stance. His opponent was unworried, more experienced, and a LOT bigger. The little guy swung wildly. The big boy blocked it and countered with one hard blow to the belly that put his opponent down. The young crowd that had gathered to watch were shocked into silence at the fast brutality.

The boy lay in a ball, face buried in the dirt to hide his tears while his chest heaved silently. He refused to get up until the rest of us left. The big boy left first, laughing.

I didn’t know either of the boys. I never learned the context of the moment. I only encountered the conflict because I was on my way home from school. But forty-five years later I still feel the heat rise within me when I think about it.

The next day I sought out the bigger boy and taunted him, suggesting he fight me. He demurred since I appeared to be a more formidable adversary. I challenged him several more times over the school year but he never accepted. I think he was honestly puzzled at my hostility. I guess maybe I am too.

He didn’t have to hurt the smaller boy. He was big enough that a simple shove would have finished the match before it started. He didn’t have to laugh, either. I was just a kid but I could see the angst in the little guy. He was in pain before he ever got hit. I wonder what he feels now when he remembers that moment.

I think I also feel ashamed that I let it happen. I know it wasn’t my business but if I had thought quicker perhaps I could have intervened. I didn’t like being a spectator and then walking away just like everyone else.

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to be of help, to intervene in a crisis, or at least help someone who was down. But often I still feel that same helplessness as I watch everything that goes on around me: violence, injury, sickness, and loss. And sometimes the aggressors are also victims so in addition to the anger and the shame, I feel confusion.

Now, after so many years in ministry, I feel something else.

Tired.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm not a Sinner. I'm a Person




I’m not a sinner. I’m a person. 

I posted this on Facebook and received some powerful reactions.  My minister pals responded with gentleness and support.  Other friends, though they were kind, equated my statement with total rejection of the Christian doctrine and it confused them to hear this coming from a pastor.   Some cheered me on even as they poured out their stories of having been rejected by their Christian communities.

Is it really so shocking that I insist I am a whole person complete with conflicting attributes? And excuse me if I sound guilty of the sin of pride, but  I’m pretty damned interesting.  I can be brilliant, dumb, generous and petty.  I sing, whisper, yell, and mumble.   I laugh loud, wail inconsolably, burn with rage, and love with passion. I work hard and occasionally I struggle through the minutia to accomplish big things. I’ve also helped people throughout my life. 

All these things count.  I won’t exclude them all and focus only on the bad stuff.

But let’s think this through.  Am I a sinner? I’ve searched myself all my life like a good little Christian to ferret out all my inner evil and I’ve enjoyed about as much of that misery as I can stand.  But if I must, I’ll give myself one final quickie—oops, using that word is probably a sin.  But let’s move on.    

Have I hurt others? Yeah, so okay, those are sins.  Additionally, others have said I have hurt them and they expect me to hang my head and feel bad. I can’t argue because that would probably be a sin, too. On the other hand, I’ve avoided the biggies—murder, robbery, tearing labels off mattresses.  But it’s a sin to brag about the bad things I've avoided.  Also, I’ve done some pretty good things, but thinking about how good I am is a sin, too.

Then there are the sins of omission—the endless list of things I am not doing but should be.  Also, my inner thoughts of the bad things I wish I could be doing—they’re sins too.  And then the feelings—jealousy, fear, anger, sexual desire, grief—I shouldn’t have them so those are also sins. 

Finally, we say that sin is anything less than perfection.  So as I sit here with imperfect posture, my fingers using the backspace key while I type in my flawed thoughts, I’m supposed to agree that there’s never a moment when I’m not sinning. 

Fine. You win. If we exclude every other fact about me, we can call me a miserable, scum sucking, stinking sinner.  And so are you.  And so is everyone. 

It’s probably a sin to say this is crazy.  But it is. 

Quote a Bible verse or two, or a hundred, but it’s doesn’t make it less crazy.  Weave your thoughts into a weird doctrinal narrative and call it “God’s love,” and that makes it more crazy.  Shout it from ten thousand protestant pulpits and the craziness grows. Teach it lovingly to the children in classrooms and we’ve elevated it to wickedness.   

So I want to say sincerely, I’m sorry but I’m not a sinner.  I’m sorry I ever believed that I was.  I’m sorry I told others they were sinners.  I’m sorry I preached it in the pulpit and taught it in the classroom and shared it to families in their living rooms. 

I repent. I take it back. 

Condemn me for it if you must, but I’m not a sinner. And neither are you.  We are persons.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Do Again

For the second time I will say, “I do.”  

I’ll say it again, and mean it again,
But without the na├»ve confidence of youth. 

The first time it was an oath in church
In front of my father, the presiding minister. 
Our families and hundreds of friends
Looked on with pride and sentiment. 
I wore the tux and she the white gown.
We had groomsmen and bridesmaids,
And a trunk full of wedding gifts. 

Tomorrow, at the courthouse,
Just the two of us will stand before
A stranger who will perform the ceremony.
I will say the words again with less drama,
No audience, no music, no solemn oath before God,  
Just a quiet promise offered only to her. 

“I do.”