Monday, January 30, 2012

He

He's nothing special. That's probably what he'd tell you. That's what many may tell him.

He's a young man, mid-20s, physically capable and intellectually thirsty. He reads. He talks. He sips coffee and eats simply.

He has a high school diploma and has aspirations for further education, although he needed to find himself first. The search took a while. He's always seeking.

He moves from job to job, not because he's a poor worker or because he has a bad attitude. He gets laid off, or he's told "we only needed you during the Christmas rush." His resume looks suspicious. He'll explain it to you if you're willing to listen.

His family will only help so much. They measure his worth by what he can contribute. They frequently tell him he needs to go. He loves them. He strives to understand.

He loves simplicity. He'd live at the library if you let him. What he owns can fit in his car. Just give him a place to shower and eat. He may resist; work on him a little, and he'll humbly accept.

He eats a McDonald's chicken sandwich by himself. He is surrounded, and yet alone.

He wants a life that is moving toward a whole rather than scraped-together pieces. He looks at you, in earnest, and smiles, because he trusts God despite the mess. He moves along because it's what he's learned to do.

He doesn't want much, just enough.

How would you receive him?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pop Culture Roundup

Believe it or not, I'm still reading This Odd and Wondrous Calling, which you may remember I started way back at the end of November. It's one of those books that I pick up, read a chapter, and then leave alone for a while. That's not really a commentary on the content or quality of writing, I just haven't been in a hurry to read ministry books in this season of my life. Nevertheless, Lillian Daniel has a good chapter about pastor spouses, including some good observations about the differences in expectations if said spouse is male or female.

Mad Men is growing on me. The first few episodes, I couldn't really get past some of the cultural stuff that was apparently considered appropriate in that time period. Having watched a few more episodes now, the characters are starting to grow on me as I see more of their depth and insecurities beginning to come out. A lot of the office people are still pretty two-dimensional, but I imagine that that will change the more I get into the series.

The 2012 WWE Royal Rumble is this Sunday evening. It is one of my favorite wrestling events of the entire year, as it features a match where 30 guys enter, one every few minutes, and the only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the floor. The winner gets a world title shot at Wrestlemania. There will be some other matches as well, but they normally don't turn out to be classics by any means. A returning Chris Jericho and Randy Orton are two of the draws of the match. I'm betting on one of them to win.

Ingrid Michaelson came out with a new album this week called Human Again. I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but here's a new song from it called "Ghost:"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Temptation and Clarification

Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of my ordination. It was on that day seven years ago that I took the vows I've been trying to live into ever since. It was yesterday that I was sent a message by a colleague inviting me (and others) to reflect on Jesus' time in the wilderness. He suggested that Jesus spent those 40 days being tried and tempted while working out his vocation, and invited all of us to reflect on how we are tried and tempted while doing the same. It also happened that I've been invited to reflect on Jesus' wilderness time during my Ignatian Exercises this week. All this together, my spiritual director will no doubt say later today, was less than a mere coincidence, with which I'll not disagree.

Anyway, as I ponder my ordination this week, I've been thinking about such temptations, but also clarifications that have come over these seven years, and figured I'd blog both.

Trials and Temptations

1. Leave before the job is done. At the sign of resistance, frustration, boredom, or general ruttedness, it's tempting to seek out the supposedly greener grass elsewhere. But I have learned over and over to wait it out, to see what happens, and to try new things. Every time so far, it's become clear that I'm not done where I am. I've received this piece of advice from more than one colleague much more seasoned than me: "Don't be in a hurry to leave." This comes from pastors who thought they were heading for better situations and got burned when they got there, so they know, and their point is well-taken.

2. To try too hard to seem like a Regular Guy. I hate the exchanges at get-togethers that are variations on this: "Killians, please." "You're a pastor and you drink beer?" Yes, I like normal things. No, I do not spend 23 hours on my prayer cot in the church basement with an hour off for lunch. For a while I really went out of my way to prove this to people, and I think it was at the expense of my role, my sense of pastoral identity. Obviously there are changes that this vocation calls for, but there are ways to infuse it with who you are.

3. Making the church your "first mistress," to borrow a phrase from Ray Carroll. It's very easy to make the church the center of your world at the expense of your family, your social life, yourself. Whether you're doing it to appease your toughest critics, or justifying it theologically, or just a workaholic, it easily leads to burnout, misconduct, and/or major familial problems.

Clarifications

1. I love counseling and mentoring others in ministry. I love leading discussions, I love talking one on one, I love serving in various ways on my Association's Church & Ministry Department. Down the line, I'd like to pursue this interest perhaps in a different kind of ministry, but for now doing it as a local church pastor is what I'm meant to do.

2. I started this blog shortly after beginning my first settled call, and it has become for me something essential. Through this medium I've become aware of a love of, even a calling to, write. I've had a few things published over the years, and I'm feeling the itch to write in an even more serious way than that. But I'm still in the early stages of such things.

It's been quite a journey these past seven years. What will tomorrow bring?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Booing the Golden Rule

On Monday night, the Republican candidates for president had yet another debate, this time in South Carolina. I haven't made it a point to watch them: there have been so many, I don't want to devote 2-3 hours to watching them, and WWE Monday Night RAW was on (which, you know, same thing). I do tend to read up afterward and watch the running commentary on my Twitter timeline during the event, so I stay in the loop in my own way.

So I'm reading the commentary during Monday's debate, and all these tweets start appearing about the "Golden Rule" being booed by the crowd. For those unfamiliar with what that term refers to, Jesus' version appears in Matthew 7:12: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."

Anyway, as I read tweet after tweet referring to this event, I became incredulous. A state known for a more conservative, evangelical population booed one of the most well-known statements Jesus made? Turns out that they did indeed:
Scattered boos and jeers drowned out Paul's call for a "golden rule" in American foreign policy.

"My point is, that if another country does to us what we do to others, we aren't going to like it very much. So I would say maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy," Paul said as the crowd laughed and jeered. "We endlessly bomb these other countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?"
And if you still don't believe it, here's the video:



Those sound like more than just "scattered" boos to me. And yet the crowd turns right around by the end and cheers pulling out of the wars that we're in. I found that confusing.

My question is a simple one: How is the Golden Rule booed in a country that so often claims to be Christian? While versions of this adage appear in most religious traditions, we here would be most familiar with the Christian version. It is fair to say that those who were at that debate the other night would have heard Jesus' version in their heads when Paul referred to it. Ergo, one of Jesus' most recognizable and well-known statements was booed. Meanwhile, a statement made a few moments later by another candidate about killing our enemies (Jesus had some things to say about that, too) was greeted with a standing ovation.

Many Christians in the United States advocate endlessly for prayer in schools, for plaques referring to Christian precepts hung in state buildings, for "under God" to be left in the pledge. When tragedy strikes, there always come some suggestions that if these things were left alone they might not have happened, either because we're being punished for abandoning God or removing these things contribute to some larger erosion of morals in society.

If the former explanation is true, then what do people think God has to say about booing Jesus' teaching? If the latter is true, clearly even the "most Christian" among us need more reminders.

This debate incident is the latest in a long string of events that show that plaques are not the real solution to making the United States a more Christian nation. Hang the Ten Commandments in every statehouse in the country, force kids to say the Lord's Prayer every morning, but what's your heart like? When was the last time you helped someone struggling with poverty? When was the last time you forgave an enemy? When was the last time you did to someone else as you'd have done to you? I do get why people would boo that sort of thing: it's hard. It makes us uncomfortable and pushes us to pay more than lip service to this faith that we proclaim.

What's going to mean more: displaying a Bible verse or living out what the verse says? Dictating that kids all pray, or nurturing a culture that reflects a spirit of prayer featuring peace in community? Saying "under God" or living like you really are under God? Coercion, intimidation, and an unbending judgmental standard or genuine relationship, kindness, and an appreciation for the specifics of another's story, particularly as it relates to God's Great Big Story?

The bottom line is that what would truly make us a more Christian nation is Christians acting like Christians. And I don't mean railing about the culture war cause du jour, I mean doing the hard gritty everyday stuff of love and forgiveness that Jesus taught and exhibited, that pushes our boundaries and gets dirt under our fingernails for the sake of the Kingdom. It's that kind of stuff--the stuff of a real transformed life and not an endless campaign to force conformity--to which Jesus calls people. After all, Jesus said, "You'll know them by their fruits."

Of course, some might boo that, too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Taskmaster

I am hunched over my computer keyboard in the late afternoon, feeling my eyes turning red and dry from exposure to the screen's penetrating light. I've barely filled a page, mostly single-sentence paragraphs, and it's as if they mock me for not writing more.

I reach for my coffee, freshly steaming in a mug I'd received before leaving for college. It's been washed so many times that the seal of my alma mater has faded, a dull brown against black rather than its formerly brilliant gold.

It is worn, and I am worn. But I know that I need to finish, and soon.

I take a moment to read over my work again. My attention wanders back to my drink, and I suddenly sense that I’m no longer alone. There was no sound of his approaching, he hasn’t said a word. His presence behind me, however, is unmistakable. I feel my chest tighten as this realization fully sets in, and I finish the action of sipping and setting the mug back down in order to feel some semblance of control, of normalcy.

“You seem to be having trouble. You weren’t considering flaking out on me again, were you?”

His words always carry an air of accusation. This would be true even if he was asking about the weather. The knot in my chest gets a little bigger and I fold my arms in order to hide the shaking. I still haven’t turned around.

“It’s just coming more slowly than it used to. You know that I don’t have as much time—“

“You haven’t made the time, you mean.”

I don’t bother to finish my sentence. He wouldn’t really be listening anyway. This is how it always is. My jaw goes rigid; I catch myself doing it and relax. I feel his impatience like tiny hot needles piercing the back of my shirt as the silence between us gets longer. He doesn’t really care about what I have to say, and yet he wants me to speak.

“So…want to give the excuses another try?”

It’s been long enough. I slowly turn in my chair to face him. He’s leaning against the doorframe, sipping from a mug that looks exactly like mine down to the last scratch. He smirks, not bothering to hide his contempt for me. He takes a sip, exaggerating the slurp while watching for my reaction. Even the most mundane act carries condescension.

It wasn’t always like this. The two of us had been cordial partners for many years. At that time, we fed off each other, tossing ideas back and forth like two kids playing catch. He was much more encouraging at that time; even shared the workload with me, as eager to create and entertain as I was. We were pretty much the same person then, and I take another moment to wonder when we began to diverge; what caused this relationship to become so uneven.

He instantly knows what I’m doing. “Knock it off and tell me why you don’t have something ready yet.”

I feel a slight surge of adrenaline at this and ponder throwing my coffee in his face. He knows this and chuckles.

“You’ve wanted to do that for a long time, haven’t you? Go ahead and see what happens.”

I take a deep breath, opening and closing my fist a few times. This calms me enough so that I can speak.

“I should have something ready in another day or two.”

He stands up straight, letting out an exasperated sigh. “It’s already been three days. What’s been taking you so long?”

He knows what’s coming even before I say it.

“I already tried telling you. I haven’t had as much time as I used to. Stuff like this doesn’t just pop into my head and run down out of my fingers any more. I have to budget time better, type a little here and there, plan stuff out. But even—“

“I’m so sick of hearing this every day.”

This time I insist on finishing. “But even you have to admit that it’s been better quality since I started doing it this way.”

There is a long pause. I sense his hesitancy to agree, his searching for a cheap way to snap back, to poke a hole in my argument and my soul.

“Better quality. I’ll give you that. Savor the fact that I’m agreeing with you. Of course, you could stand to pick it up a little.”

“But—“

“No! Sure, you’re planning and editing more, but you and I both know that you don’t do it as often. The quality stuff comes, what, once every few weeks? What are you doing in between those supposed masterpieces? You sure aren’t working on them non-stop. You’re on those asinine friend sites or playing cheap games on your phone. No, don’t even bring up your family or your job or your spiritual direction crap, because you know that's not what I mean. You wonder why I ride your ass about doing this? It’s because if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be writing anything.”

“Well then, maybe I won't any more!”

His icy glare says it all. He wasn’t prepared for my willingness to suggest that.

“You and I both know that that is not an option.”

I feel my courage growing. “It’s not? That’s not the first time you’ve said that, but you’ve never explained why. You’ve just always assumed that I’d accept it at face value. Why’s it not an option? Why don’t you take a crack at this stuff again? You care so much about doing this, how about throwing out some ideas the way you used to instead of making me do the work of two people?”

He chews the inside of his cheek for a moment. I take it as an invitation to keep going.

“You keep me chained to this machine like eloquent prose just magically happens and you never lift a finger to help. You show up, judge me, and leave. I’m the one doing all the work, and you swoop in to soak up the praise afterward. You need me in order to make you feel good, because it's the only reason you're around at all. If I ever stop, you cease to exist, and you hate the thought of that. So, how about I stop? How about I just quit, and kill two birds with one stone? I free up some time, and more importantly, I get rid of you.”

His incredulity remains during my entire diatribe, but by the end I can see a flash of panic as well. Feeling emboldened, I take this opportunity to reach for my cup and take a sip, complete with my own exaggerated slurp to punctuate things.

Unfortunately, my gesture seems to snap him back into form. He ambles over, setting his own cup down on the desk, and rests a hand on each arm of my chair so that his face is inches from mine. I smell the coffee on his breath. His eyes, brown and deeply familiar, hold my own.

“I know that you dream of that happening. You want so bad to be rid of me, to be rid of what you do for us. But let’s talk about existence. Without me, without what I never let you forget every day, without what I force you to do, you wouldn’t exist either.

“Do you think anybody would care if you stopped writing, right now? Do you think they’d notice? No, they wouldn’t. They’d find something else, other supposedly profound insights to occupy a few minutes of their time each day. If you stop writing, they stop caring. Go ahead and test me on this. Let things go for even a week and watch the attention evaporate.

“The fact is that you want, you need the praise as much as I do. You need it to know that someone notices. I’m helping you stay relevant. I’m helping you stay alive. And you’ve never thanked me, never acknowledged that my role does make a difference in this relationship. That’s okay, so long as you keep doing what you do in order for both of us to get what we need from the rest of the world.”

He holds my gaze for a few more seconds before straightening up and gingerly grabbing his mug.

“You’re welcome.”

Backing up a few steps, he turns and vanishes a moment later. I turn back toward the computer, his words a brutal echo in my thoughts. I look at the screen and watch the words in silence. After a moment, I resume typing, my coffee slowly going cold.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pop Culture Roundup

The only book I've read this year so far has been Fallen Pastor by Ray Carroll, which I reviewed here.

At some point, somewhere, somebody said to somebody else, "Hey, let's retell the story of 'Romeo and Juliet' using lawn gnomes and featuring the music of Elton John." And for some reason, the other person said, "Yeah, that sounds like a surefire hit!" As it turns out, this conversation did not happen in a college dorm room while passing around a cigarette with questionable contents, but in a boardroom at Dreamworks (which for all I know may be the same thing). The result is Gnomeo and Juliet, which Coffeeson has wanted to watch several times a day for at least a week now. Two rival yards full of lawn decorations go back and forth, Gnomeo meets Juliet, hopefully you know the gist. There is actually a lawn gnome who comes out at the very beginning and says, "The story you're about to see has been told...a lot." Indeed. James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, and Jason Statham are among those lending their voice talents. It's certainly not the greatest animated film ever made, but it did have enough cleverness to it--including subtle references to other Shakespearean works--that I didn't not enjoy it.

I've been meaning to get into the show Mad Men for quite a while now, and Coffeewife got me the first season on Blu-Ray for Christmas so I could do just that. After seeing the first few episodes, and I can't say that I really like any of the main characters yet. It has taken me a while to settle into the culture of the show, which is set in a time when men can get away with nearly anything in the workplace with their female coworkers and women's highest ideal is to become the best Susie Homemaker that they can possibly be. Everyone smokes like a chimney, and it's common to have an afternoon (or even morning) drink in one's office. We're meant to be particularly concerned with Jon Hamm's Don Draper, an executive in advertising who is brilliant at his job and has a good home life with a lover on the side. He's already shown flashes of depth, which I imagine will only continue as I get further into the series. All that said...I'm still trying to decide whether I like this show.

Do I have any new music? Pshaw. I have some new music.

First, I've been enjoying "Parachute" by Ingrid Michaelson lately:



Next, I downloaded the album For True by Trombone Shorty, who brings it with an upbeat New Orleans sound. He reminds me a lot of Robert Randolph, with a lot of different influences mixed together including funk, jazz, blues, rock, and hip-hop. Here's my favorite, "Dumaine Street:"



I've also been enjoying Wye Oak's album Civilian. This group is in the same vein as Florence + the Machine or Feist, with a little more grit to them. Here's the title track:



Speaking of Florence + the Machine, I've been enjoying her latest album as well, Ceremonials. It's blown me away with its driving tribal drums fronted by Florence's passionate voice, and has a surprising amount of religious imagery. Witness, for instance, this video for "No Light, No Light:"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Small Sips Prefers to Call It "Denarding"

Thank God for Touchdowns. Greg at The Parish reflects on the act of "Tebowing," which for the uninitiated, is the term coined for Broncos QB Tim Tebow kneeling and praying in the endzone after a touchdown:
All that to say that Tebow's public expressions of faith don't trouble me. I do think it's worse than stupid to assume god gives two shits about the outcome of a game, but I understand why some fundangelicals believe he does. Tebow sports a Bible verse on his eye-black. So? At least it's not Leviticus 18:22. He prays. Billions of people pray. He prays publicly. You get the point. He's acting like a very committed, outspoken man of faith. Give it a rest, people. If you hate Florida, say so. If you don't like that he's big and goofy and gives all the credit to his god, say so. I will admit to some glee at watching his evangelical fan base gnash their teeth when I mock them with tweets about Dagon being god of Denver, just as Maher annoyed millions with his tweet. There seems to be this strange ability amongst certain people of faith to say that they know something isn't true (God cares about football games) while still holding onto a belief that it is true. Mocking them along that axis leads to anger and/or a bit too much celebration when Tebow wins. As one recent poster said: "Go Tebow! Go Jesus!" Yeah, words fail.
Greg goes on to make several points about how many people say they don't believe that God cares about football, but then in the moment their actions belie something else. He talks about football being viewed as spiritual warfare in these instances, which I'd never considered and am not sure I agree with.

As far as Tebow himself is concerned, Greg and I are on the same page: who cares? Both "sides" make way too much of his endzone prayers: atheists like Bill Maher, not to mention rival fans, see it as an invitation to tee off on him (or rush the passer, I guess, to keep with the football theme), while Christians use it as an opportunity to point out his public witness and complain about "persecution" when Maher says tasteless things.

Tim Tebow is not the first or only sports figure to thank God after a good play (and it's worth noting that in his press conferences he thanks God after wins AND losses). It's pretty crummy theology to suggest that God caused the play to turn out the way it did, but if an athlete is merely praying for focus, to be able to do the best they can, or giving thanks for their abilities, I don't see the big deal in that. Does Tebow overdo it? Sure, at times. But his faith has always been so public that at what point does the media and others just blow it up bigger than it really is?

Moar young ppl plz. Carol Howard Merritt tells us a bunch of stuff we already know:
* From 2000 to 2005 the average percentage of participants over 60 years old increased.
* Over the same time period the average percentage of participants 18-34 decreased.
* From 2008 to 2010 the average percentage of participants over 65 increased slightly.
* From 2008 to 2010 the average percentage of 18-34 year olds continued to decline.
* A third or more of the membership in over half (52.7%) of Oldline Protestant congregations consists of seniors (65 years old or older).
* Seventy-five percent of Oldline Protestant congregations said that less than 10% of their regular participants were young adults (18-34 years old).
What follows after these stats are suggestions as to why "oldline" churches may be turning away young people, among them lack of diversity in age and culture in leadership and aversion to technology.

I read this just as my church's Consistory is about to take on new members, and we're intentionally reaching out to some younger (read: under 40) folks to serve. This was a helpful time to come across an article like this.

Pews: not so much. Nadia Bolz-Weber's church sounds awesome:
Pews, especially lovely carved vintage pews, can be really quite beautiful and an efficient way of seating a lot of people at once. No question about it. But here’s the problem my church is having in finding a new home. We can’t abide pews. And it’s more than simply an issue of taste.

See, House for All Sinners and Saints (for the most part) worships in the round, with the altar at the center. There is not a large space set aside in front for the special people in robes to which everyone faces. Our liturgy (liturgy meaning “the work of the people”) is led by about 15-18 people who decided to pick up the worship booklets when they came in that have jobs written on the front. So from where they sit in the round, they stand and either say the prayer of the day or the Gospel reading or the benediction or any other number of elements of the liturgy. The absolution, sermon (usually) and words of institution are mine…the rest is up for grabs.
I'd love to uproot our pews and have a more versatile worship space. It's not a make-or-break sort of fight that I feel like having, but I certainly see the possibilities that Nadia describes. Hers sounds like a church that takes seriously the call for everyone to serve one another in community; this pew-less situation embodies that.

I imagine that some serious groundwork would need to be laid for such a thing to work: groundwork that would help people understand why a dozen worship books would just be set near the entrance for people to just pick up and help lead. We all have a part to play; we all have a calling. Amen.

Michigan won the Sugar Bowl. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Epiphany

It's Epiphany. The 12 days of Christmas (yes, it's more than a song) are officially over. This is the day when pagan astrologers, curious about activity in the night sky they so adeptly watched, set off on a journey to find a child toddling his way around Mary and Joseph's modest abode, bringing him expensive gifts which no doubt raised his parents' eyebrows as they continued to make sense of their collective calling. This is a day to remember that, to remember God's manifestation in Jesus, to remember God's manifestation in all of existence, to talk about the light of the star and the light of our lives.

For me, this is a day seeking that manifestation as I wrestle with a couple things.

I wrestle with being de-friended on Facebook by someone declaring he would no longer be friends with Michigan fans. This was a fraternity brother with whom I was always on good terms, a guy I laughed with and hugged and supported during moments when the group was experiencing fracture. But that was ten years ago, so what is that to anyone now? I tested his resolve, leaving a comment on his status, telling him to make sure he de-friended Coffeewife as well. He didn't seem to give it a second thought. Now I wonder what irritates me more: that a supposed friend did this, or that sports fandom trumped anything else. Probably both.

I wrestle with this damn blog. Today marks seven years since I started, but something has been different for the past year. I feel stale and tired and worry that I'll end up hating writing if this goes on much longer. Change is needed before that happens, most likely time off and then a fresh start, something simpler and newly infused with joy.

I wrestle with what spiritual direction is doing to and in me. This isn't a negative thing, but I wanted to keep with the "wrestling" theme, so it sounds worse than it is. It's challenging me and inspiring me and stretching me in ways I haven't felt in years. I feel more creatively limber than I have in a while, and it's having an effect on my approach to ministry.

I don't wrestle with family, or church, or my calling, or anything like that. 2012 is off to a good start and God is manifesting all over the place. I squint to look past the clouds for the star's clarification to continue unabated.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Book Review: Fallen Pastor by Ray Carroll

The problem in asking “why” is the fear of justifying the act. Reconciliation is virtually impossible in most situations because the prevailing church culture never wants to condone what originally happened. And instead of seeking our reconciliation and restoration, which are the hallmarks of the church, we ignore the problem hoping it will go away. It never does. The only way to answer the question is to face it and listen to it. - Fallen Pastor, p. 50

In my personal quest to seek out and define the hallmarks of a longer pastorate, I've discovered two things: 1) there are many more than I realized, and 2) they're the sorts of things that pastors constantly hear about doing. I've written before that there is no magic bullet for building a long-term relationship with a congregation. Instead, there is only the intentional and the mundane: taking time off, seeking a support network, and intentional time with family, among others.

There can be darker consequences when pastors do not pursue these sorts of things. As Ray Carroll observes in his book Fallen Pastor, there are much worse things a pastor may end up dealing with than a brief pastorate if he or she isn't vigilant about taking care of oneself.

I randomly discovered Carroll on Twitter one day. At that point, he was tweeting and blogging anonymously, recollecting his own experiences as a former pastor who'd had an affair with a church member. Like many others, I was taken by the parts of his story that he shared, which was and is quite heartbreaking for all involved. Eventually, he was inspired to write a book about his experiences, the experiences of others, and how to help pastors who end up crossing the line. Once he put the word out that he needed people to review the book, I volunteered and was sent an advance copy.

The first, quite lengthy section of Fallen Pastor contains stories from other pastors who'd given into temptation. The specifics of their situations vary somewhat: they're younger or older, serving smaller or larger churches, with or without kids, etc. However, there is a common thread that runs through the factors that eventually lead to affairs: they're overfunctioners who feel incredible pressure from the expectations that their churches place on them (and that they place on themselves) and who end up ignoring their spouses in the process. Carroll actually calls ministry "the first mistress" more than once, referring to when a pastor invests considerable more time and energy in his church than his marriage (in the book, all the pastors he interviews are men). He notes that many pastors do not have a wide circle of non-church friends or some sort of clergy group to lean on, thus being forced to act as "lone rangers" who also frequently assume their non-pastor spouses won't understand their problems.

Carroll notes these commonalities and explores them and basically calls out the entire system in the process. He argues that the church frequently sets itself up to be a culture where the pastor is expected to take on the vast majority of ministry planning and execution while congregants explicitly or implicitly tell him he's actually not doing enough. Carroll does eventually offer some pointers for both pastor and church to change behavior and expectations in order to produce a more healthy culture in which both may work.

There is also lengthy discussion of restoring a pastor after he is found out. Carroll notes a long process with many stages that pastors may go through before even fully realizing and admitting that what they've done is hurtful and wrong. He notes the helpfulness and importance of forgiveness, therapeutic measures, not abandoning the pastor in his darkest moment, and refocusing on Christ rather than success particularly if one ever feels called back to ministry.

The book is written in a very accessible format and style. There were some grammatical and spelling issues that I hope were addressed before the book actually went to print. There were also several ways in which I took issue with the book. First, Carroll places great emphasis on the crossing of the "physical boundary," implying that that is when an affair officially becomes destructive. While I agree that it is a point of no return, I think that the earlier points in the affair are just as troublesome and damaging. If a pastor is spending more time and emotional investment with another person, that may lead to crossing into the physical, but it has already become unhealthy for all involved and affected, including the pastor's own state of mind and the state of his marriage.

My other main gripe with the book is one that can only be helped so much. Carroll comes from a Baptist background that only recognizes the legitimacy of men in pastoral ministry and, as mentioned earlier, the book reflects that. He does interview pastors from American Baptist and Methodist backgrounds--traditions that do recognize women's gifts for pastoral ministry--but no women are interviewed. I would imagine that female pastors struggle with many of the same temptations and endure many of the same factors that could lead to misconduct as male pastors. If women in pastoral ministry can get past the male language used here, this can be just as informative and helpful a book for them as for men.

All in all, Carroll has written a good overview of the issues involved in pastoral misconduct and sin while also noting preventative and restorative measures.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A New Year's Post I Told Myself I Wouldn't Write

For me personally, 2011 was a pretty good year. I seemed to see a lot of friends through social media express desires for last year to basically go to hell, but I have no big gripes about it.

I think that 2011 was a year of finding balance between family and church. It was a year where I started seeing both a spiritual director and a counselor, where I was challenged to think outside my usual well-worn paths on several fronts for the better. It was a year where the fruits of a longer pastorate began to ripen with promises of more to come. It was a year where Coffeewife finally graduated, Coffeeson was finally potty-trained, and I finally made a decision on more formal schooling myself. It was the year The Rock returned, Michigan football became relevant again, and Five Iron Frenzy reunited.

I can only give thanks for 2011 and all that it included. Not everyone experienced it as such, but I'll remember it as being a positive one rich with celebrations and learning.

So, onto 2012. I don't know if anybody out there cares about a post like this that includes resolutions. I know I barely do. But nevertheless, there are a couple things I'd like to do this year.

1. Make some phone calls. I'm long overdue to talk to some old friends. This needs to happen.

2. Make a dentist's appointment. I'm long overdue for that, too. I get the feeling that it's not going to be pleasant.

3. Keep exercising. I started a "Couch to 5K" thing late last year, but my knee voiced some displeasure with it after a while so I've had to put it on hold. Guess it's back to the not-as-grinding elliptical machine for me.

4. Prepare a book to be self-published. No, seriously. It's time. It's over time. This should finally happen.

See? Nothing too ground-breaking or monumental or overly ambitious. I thought about writing some deeper reflective flourishing prose of some kind, but I really don't feel like it. So this is what you get the Monday after New Year's weekend.

The blog will be here, too. I think about quitting, but it keeps pulling me back. Apparently I still have something to say.

Happy New Year, if that's your thing.