A Confessional

I remember, when I was growing up, I had a certain impression of ministers. Mostly men. Black robes. Preached these long, boring sermons that had to be endured moreso than experienced. High, holy folk who probably lived really holy lives, which meant abstinence from all things fun and exciting. I guess I thought ministers spent a majority of their time praying, reading the Bible, and drinking water with all of their meals.

And, of course, there was that whole thing about God. Ministers, at least in my eye, could not afford to sin. They might get fired for that, or perhaps burned at the stake. Ministers were the people to whom you would address any question(s) about God and they were expected to spit out the answer(s). If they didn’t know the answer(s), they would get fined by somebody… Jesus, maybe. They were to be friendly, patient, cordial, understanding, wise, and available at all times to do weddings and funerals and baptisms and, if worse came to worse, preach.

I think, as a kid, I generally liked ministers, but I also remember thinking that I better not slip up or I could be condemned. I could see it quite clearly in my mind’s eye, my parents shipping me off to Beelzebul Boarding School because I had sinned in the presence of the Robed One. Ministers, you see, were not human. They were part celebrity, part sinless robot who had magical ministerial powers.

Of course, I don’t think this image of the minister is strictly confined to little kids running around with scraped knees. Recently, a friend of mine who is in seminary mentioned from the pulpit (partially in jest, predominantly in truth) that seminarians don’t often get invited to cocktail parties (much less pastors). I’m pretty sure that might have something to do with the fact that the image of the Robed One hasn’t quite worn itself off for many people. I mean, what fun is a party with booze if the pastor comes running around? Don’t want a kegger to turn into a game night featuring the always successful Biblical Trivial Pursuit, do we?

To me, the good joke about all of this is that I am now a minister. Hilarious. And I remember, when considering my own personal punchline known as seminary, that I was initially hesitant because I feared my life was turning into one that would have me handing out pamphlets about God and asking people if they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That just wasn’t me… not at all. I’d rather be at the kegger.

But then I started seminary. And I started listening to people’s stories. And I got to know some pastoral types. And I came to understand that a lot of us don’t know what the hell is going on in the world. We don’t get half of the stuff that we read online or see in the news. We struggle with the problem of evil and why it even needs to exist. We cry out to God when babies die or moms are killed in drunk driving accidents or when someone succumbs to cancer at much too early an age.

Yeah… we may be equipped with theological ‘parameters’ through which we can gauge or approach a certain situation. And we’ve been baptized by fire when thrown into some dicey situations during our pastoral or chaplaincy internships. And we may mindlessly quote Barth or Calvin or Bonhoeffer or Bono when trying to make a point. Heck, we even have to preach sometimes those very sermons we loathed when we were children.

But, really… when the rubber hits the road, how much of that really matters?

I have to confess to y’all that being a pastor has reinforced my own humanity more so than anything else. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the ideal that I created when I was a child– that ministers have all the answers– and some misguided notion that I have to live up to that. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m more aware of my own shortcomings now than ever before. Or perhaps it’s that whole question of worth… like, standing before a congregation thinking to myself, “I am not worthy to be here.”

I think that this is a fairly common feeling within the pastoral community. And the thing is that we’re all REALLY human. We don’t always get it. I don’t always get it. And, right now I’m really struggling with why certain things have to happen in certain ways. Why certain lives can’t be spared. Why certain meals can’t be shared. Why things sometimes have to appear as an utterly convoluted wreck. And why that wreck can’t be cleaned up.

I guess that’s what happens when you place your hope in things that you will never fully understand. Well… not so much ‘things’ as God. I think it’s better that way, though… not that I shouldn’t question. But, at the end of it all, maybe my questions, my misunderstandings will be cleared up. And I won’t feel the need to get things out on paper or a computer screen to feel better. Confessionals like these won’t be as necessary, other than to confess that my hope is built on nothing less than something I will never completely understand.

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~ by presbytide on November 27, 2009.

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