Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pastors Are Human

The incident took place at one of Deming's many churches, an independent church.

They have a small but fervent congregation, and their pastor is intensely energetic, a natural leader. I've heard him preach twice. Both sermons hit the same themes: righteous and unrighteous living, obeying authority figures (because if a person is in authority, you'd better understand God put them there, kid), and gay-bashing.

I know people who go to the church and like the pastor very much. When they talk about pastor's sermons, they rarely tell me much about the content of the sermons -- they talk about the feeling they get from them. (I tend to listen for the content and ignore appeals to my feelings. When someone is going for my buttons, I resist.)

In fact, I am acquainted with the man myself in non-pastoral situations. He is an upright fellow and quite enjoyable to talk to, although it is clear there are subjects we will never be able to discuss. He doesn't like other religions at all, for one thing. And he's convinced gay people are going to hell. So we talk about the weather, the city, and things like that, and get along just dandily.

There are members of his congregation who have a tremendous amount of faith in this pastor. They feel that he has tuned his ear to God's word, lives his life in harmony with the word, and have tremendous faith in his judgment.

That's the dangerous part for anyone in a pastoral position: when people believe in you.

Since I wasn't there, I can't offer a lot of detail about the incident, but by more than one account it went something like this: the pastor was a-preachin', and in mid-stream an inspiration a-came to him, and he a-stopped by one woman who was a-sittin' and a-hearin' the sermon (yes, Jesus) and he did a-stop by her (yes, say it) and he made a digression (a digression, lawd, hear it), and he was said to have intimated to her, in front of everybody who was a-listenin' (yes), that she had been on his heart lately and the word he was a-gettin' from above (hear it) is that the man she was engaged to be a-marryin' soon was no good for her.

Which would be the perfect time for a whistle to blow, and for a pastoral referee to enter the scene and call a foul. "Offsides! Two sabbath penalty!"

Instead, just the tears. Tears, fleeing from the sanctuary (that surely did not feel like a "sanctuary" at that moment), a great megilla. Oy.

Let's go back to this pastor for a moment. The lady in question is doing fine, after that horrible day, so please do not worry, gentle reader. There is someone else in the story worth worrying about somewhat, and that's the fellow with the lavalier microphone and the impeccable suit.

I've worked a lot of behind-the-scenes jobs at Zen Centers and I've seen what Zen teachers go through -- enough that the job has no appeal. Your practice has to be very strong to withstand the distorting power of what people project onto you. When you're the pastor, people turn you into their daddy, their ideal mate, their psychotherapist, their shaman, or even a complex amalgamation of these.

And once people start to believe God is talking to you, it validates any opinion that comes out of your mouth. People forget the pastor is just a dude.

When pastors go to a seminary and are trained, they are ostensibly prepared for this -- one hopes so. At the very least, they have colleagues and peers who can check in with them if something starts to looks weird. Like, say, when they hear the colleague telling people, "God doesn't like your fiancee." There's someone to tap on their shoulder and say, "Let's sit down."

That is one strength in the way the Kwan Um school is set up. People criticize it for its institutional veneer, the college of Zen Masters that has been created, fearing that the teachers are less independent. To some extent that concern is probably valid. On the other hand, the teachers have the support and witness of peers. Sangha is still one of the three jewels, after all.

Who provides that for the "independent" pastors?

Watch your step.

1 comment:

Adam said...

"So we talk about the weather, the city, and things like that, and get along just dandily."

I wish this would happen more often.