I was warned. Me and a few hundred others who had gathered for a funeral. Me and a few hundred others who sat, silently, grimly, in a cavernous and spare sanctuary while a stern man in a black suit stood in an elevated pulpit and admonished us with grave fingers wagging. I was warned that death was coming for me and unless I renounced the ways of the devil and repented of my worldly pride and attachments, that my fate would be a fiery and tortuous one. I was told that there was nothing good in me and that I could never stand before the righteous judge of the earth. I was told that God has his elect and we must never question God’s ways.
And for a moment—just a tiny moment—it was exhilarating.
Pope Francis got himself in trouble last week for suggesting that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages being celebrated today are “invalid” because couples do not fully appreciate that they are making a lifetime commitment. The fact that this statement would draw criticism is puzzling, on the face of it, because who would dispute this after even a cursory glance at the world we live in?
Apparently conservative critics objected to his use of the word invalid.
A few years ago, I was asked how long I had been a pastor. I forget how long it was precisely, but it must have been somewhere in the window of two to three years. I told my questioner this and the response was darkly humorous: “Oh, so long enough to disappoint some people.” Indeed.
I was having a conversation with a friend recently about the broad strokes of our city’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
When I was younger, I imagined that people who inhabited the pastor role had some specific set of skills that made them uniquely suited to sift through the wreckage of human pain that they encountered. I imagined that they strode confidently into rooms where people were coping with tragedy and death and doubt and loss and grief and crushing pain and anger and fear armed with just the right words for the job, just the right Bible verses, just the right insight into when to give someone a hug and when to give them space, just the right prayers, just the right ability to project just the right combination of warmth and decisiveness and spiritual authority (whatever that might mean), just the right combination of attitudes and attributes to make bad situations somehow better.