I was in a meeting last week where someone related a story from a few years back. A patient came up to a student nurse and commented on a story line from ‘Coronation Street’ and asked her if she had watched it.
‘I am sorry: we are told in our training that you should not disclose any personal information’.
This person said that thankfully things have changed: at least in the organisation I work for: you are encouraged to share something of yourself and your story- people recovering find that helps them.
As I heard that- and similar stories, I thought ‘I have come home’. This almost feels like ‘ministry’ as I felt it could be: we are all broken, edging towards the light. The best don’t hide that or pretend to be something that they are not.
The world is full of stories.
Most of us know that in the abstract, some of us know that in the concrete.
Trouble is, the way that life is lived these days, we don’t get to listen to stories: we are too busy; there is always too much to do and a variety of media to fill the remaining time.
Jobs are often structured in such a way that they militate against listening to the other’s story. If we are not careful, all we get to listen to are the stories of those close to us or our own story: and sometimes neither of those that well. Actually, maybe why we never get to listen to stories is because we are too careful- it is easier to stick with those we know.
I have realised how blessed I am at the moment: I get to listen to lots of people’s stories. In fact, I am effectively paid to listen to people’s stories. It is the most fantastic experience ever; sometimes bewildering and often exhausting by the end of the day.
I drive home (I have a lot of long drives) with all these stories whirring around my head. Mostly I don’t play music for the first quarter of an hour; trying to recall these stories, giving thanks to them and attempting to offer them back to God.
I need to do that: people who get to listen to stories can gain a lot of power- best try and let go, learn some humility: the wonder of someone’s story becomes even greater then.
It’s all felt a bit strange this year- for the first time in nearly 25 years, I haven’t had to prepare anything for Easter. The memories of being a homiletical battery hen seem so long ago. Maybe next year when I have adjusted and everything does not feel so new and overwhelming I will miss it more.
Right now, looking at it from the other side (although I still am a minister and I will preach again one day), I wonder if the world I inhabited had become so separate from life as it is lived. Much as I enjoyed, really enjoyed Holy Week preparation, was it a way of avoiding the world around?
I do not know. For today, I am gripped by the sensation of a lonely man grimly following the path laid out before him, hearing the cheers but having enough identity not to be swayed by them. Blessing and lighting up other people by being faithful.Following;knowing what he should do now, but not fully knowing the eventual outcome.
And I can hold on to that. For today; that is enough for me.
This is another poem by Wendell Berry. Its stillness gets to me as does its sense of rueful longing. I often feel like this as Spring and Summer approach: plans and possibilities come to mind and are spoken about…. but they don’t often happen. One day….
My old friend, the owner
of a new boat, stops by
to ask me to fish with him.
And I say I will – both of us
knowing that we may never
get around to it, it may be
years before we’re both
idle again on the same day.
But we make a plan, anyhow,
in honor of friendship
and the fine spring weather
and the new boat
and our sudden thought
of the water shining
under the morning fog.
Last week I inadvertently got a lot of music. There is a story to this; but it is the kind of rambling story of interest only to the teller, so I won’t tell it.
I finally got hold of something by Kraftwerk: I was dimly aware of them as a teenager but didn’t realise their innovative and pioneering nature at the time. Although, I once had a 7″ of the above song- now sadly lost.
So, I listened to ‘The Man Machine’: it is a long time since I have heard music so ‘pure’. And now, I want more….
‘I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well. like campers who have bonded over cook fires far from home, we remain grateful for the provisions that we have bought with us from those cupboards, but we also find them more delicious when we share them with one another under the stars.’ (p224)
This is rich, lyrical writing, full of unfathomable imagery. I like it.
I need church. But I do not need complexity or gimmickry. Shared, simple worship, not as overprepared ‘event’, but as something to nurture life as it is lived is enough for now.
I found (and find) people like this, not so much in books, but in life. Then I craved spaces with them- many you find like that in church; painfully honest and not sure if anyone feels like them.Many more you find outside; longing for faith or unsure.
I get to do much more of this now: for the moment, that feels good.
‘…the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it.’
‘When you undergo huge traumas in middle life, everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended. Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, ‘You’re dead. Who are you going to be tomorrow?’
‘Where church growth has eclipsed church depth, it is possible to hear very little about the world except as a rival for the human resources needed for the church for her own survival.’ (p220-221)
I knew I did not have the answers.
I had (have) a profound belief that Jesus is alive and we need church in some form to show that.
But beyond that, I had run out of answers, I could have patched it up and carried on, but I would not have lasted long term. I had sensed (increasingly do sense) God alive ‘outside the walls’….. but could only see a future within formal church ministry that focussed more and more on ‘church’: I had seen so many good and holy ministers who had ceased to have any meaningful connection with anyone who was not Christian. That wasn’t me and I knew it.
I have taken a leap and I still do not know where and how I will land, but I trust in the One who asks us to leap without a guarantee of the outcome.
‘…few of us spoke openly about the effects of being identified as the holiest person in a congregation. Whether this honor was conferred by those who recognized our gifts for ministry or was simply extended by them as a professional courtesy it was equally hard on the honorees. Those of us who believed our own press developed larger-than-life swaggers and embarrasing patterns of speech, while those who didn’t suffered lower back pain and frequent bouts of sleeplessness. Either way we were deformed’. (p149-p150).
I think it was more the latter with me….over time, I believed less and less my own press and felt somehow ‘false’ talking about good things that people had said about me: it seemed like bragging. I could see many who fell into the former category and were slowly being ‘destroyed’ by the role. In a new role and looking back, I find it disturbing that few ministers have effective ‘spiritual accountability’ in place: without it, we just became more ‘deformed’.
I’ve done 5 other posts in this series (the clue is in the title…). This is, however, the first since I have ‘left’ church leadership.
About two thirds of the way through the book, the author talks about ‘transference’ in ministry: the idea that people may call you ‘good’ or ‘bad’, not so much on what you have done, but on what has been done to them in their past. Anyone who has been in this up front role knows this to be true- people may say incredibly loving things about you when you seem to have done little, and incredibly bad things about when you seem to have done a lot (of course: some of this may be justified...).
Then she talks about why she left church ministry:-
‘I needed the soul’s wisdom to do my work. I needed its compassion. But I had too often failed to set it loose in its own pasture at night, where it could kick its heels and roll in the dirt. I had kept my soul so hitched to the plow that it stood between the traces even after the harness was off, oiled and hung on the wall.
In my role, I could act out my best nature for hours at a time. I could produce kindness when all I felt was fatigue’ (p147)
I don’t know if I ever felt quite like this: most people hereabouts were very gracious, although I know that this seems to be relatively unusual judging by the number of articles I read on this issue.
And yet… it is now a relief in the role that I do that there seem to be more safeguards and much more support to do the job. It is expected that I ‘kick my heels and role in the dirt’ from time to time without internal and external projected guilt that I am not a ‘busy minister’.
I still haven’t got used to this: Sundays are my own. I don’t ‘have to’ do anything. Of course, when I was the minister of a church, I enjoyed Sundays: better in fact than most days. We got used to not seeing each other in this family on this day: it was life (perhaps occasionally said ‘I wish’ under our breath at those who said ‘we are too busy’ or even ‘call that busy?‘).
But I don’t have to do anything. My time is my own.
I go to church as I want to.
We can have long unplanned days.
If something crops up; there is no reason (apart from tiredness) not to do it.
My ‘oughteries’ have hardened.
Reading all that back to the self I was just a couple of months ago sounds almost selfish. Eventually we may have to put some kind of routine in; but right now it feels like liberation….