Just as it is the cable news network’s job to keep the fear-mongering ratings up, it is the job of religious leaders to remind us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. It is our job to make sure that we keep up our interfaith dialogue. It is also our job to inspire people to forgive.
There is a prevalent idea in culture that pastors are money-grubbers. I think I have met one of those. Maybe. But, for the most part, we hate asking for money. The majority of church budgets go to salaries, and we feel bad about that, even if we make less than a third of the average person in our congregation. So we can get embarrassed during stewardship time.
I often worship and preach in a sanctuary without windows. Renaissance Presbyterian Church is an African-American congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They built the structure, brick upon brick, so that it might withstand bombs, shooting, or burning. Stained glass gave way to safety, so when I stand in the pulpit, I always remember where I am.
The Internet loves to disdain the celebrity Christian. If anyone sells too many books, builds too big of a platform, or just gets too big for his or her britches, we like to bring that person down a notch or two. Sometimes it's a triumph for social justice.
When we talk about grief, we often speak of it in terms of letting go, moving on, and getting over it. People want to know when they will be back to normal. But the loss of a loved one is not a bump in the road that we go over and then the pavement is smooth again. Grief fundamentally changes who we are.
I love weddings. I even like the parts pastors aren’t supposed to enjoy—the flowers, dresses, hair, and make-up. People have their heads full of Kate Middleton, as they dreamed of being a princess for the day. They ended up pouring a fortune into a ceremony that could easily morph a simple religious ceremony into a frenzied, commercialized ball of stress.
I was talking about an author I admire and Brian, my husband, asked, “Her writing’s great and all, but who’s she bringing up?”
I knew what he meant. He wanted to know who was riding her coattails. Who were the people she was encouraging to write and helping along the process? I named a couple of people, and he nodded with satisfaction.
I went on a walk along the bay in Rhode Island. It was the path I took daily, so I was sure footed and looking at the horizon, until I almost stumbled upon an animal corpse. I’m not sure what it was. It was so bloated and distorted—spots of brownish gray fur, the size of a small dog but with much tinier legs. It smelled of warm rot and I became immediately afraid.
A friend was going to seminary, and she became very disappointed that someone in her home church did not send her a birthday card. When I heard this story, I thought that the congregation probably did her a favor, because it’s good to know that there are a lot of things that the church cannot do for you once you become a pastor.
A few blocks away from where I live, there’s a lovely green space. Renaissance Park is a revived bit of Chattanooga along the Tennessee River. There’s a walking tour that you can take, where you call a phone number and hear the history of the place.
Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. I often see great truth in Wilde’s musings. For example, from the hard-hitting reporters of YouTube’s All Time 10s, we find out television screenwriters imagined many inventions before scientists and techies could design them.
The bifurcation of the agreed-upon version of life has an extra layer of meaning for me. Not only did it help me to understand what is happening as a parent, but it’s helping me with my own story-telling, as a daughter.