Psycho Clergy

Chaplaincy, Theology

I just read this great article on which careers have the most psychopaths – turns out, number eight on the list is clergy.

yup. Clergy =  Pastors. Deacons. Bishops. Regional Ministers. Chaplains.

We (clergy) tend toward a personality disorder described as “having shallow emotions, reduced fear, stress tolerance, lacking empathy, cold heartedness, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, anti-social behavior and lacking guilt.”

So… there’s that.

Now, before we jump to the defensive and say that this is categorically false, clergy do not belong on that list… etc. etc. Remember that I’m probably not talking about you or your pastor per se but the greater comment on who might experience a call to ministry. One thing I had to come to grips with when doing my CPE work was just why I felt called in the first place. We, as ministers, understandably feel that our calling was directly from God but I would humbly submit that there might be some baggage connected to that calling which is very much with us. It is that baggage, working in the background that makes our calling so difficult to work with. Nietzsche wrote of the “will to power” – the idea that we all have in us the desire to have power over another. Are ministers any different? Our desire to help and serve might be present but so also might desires to know, have power, make decisions in people’s lives. The possibility for a positive trait exists with the possibility for a negative one.

What about Jesus’ words in Mark 12:38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” – These are ministers. Charged with the care of the community and they clearly do not do it. Were ALL teachers of the law this way? Is Jesus being fair to the ENTIRE cadre of religious leaders in Israel? I don’t think so. Perhaps Mark is remembering his own bias a bit here but the point is made. There is power, position, strength, and wealth in the ministry in ancient Israel. I think that has pretty much been a standard throughout the ages. Where there is some power, there will be those that, for whatever altruistic reason started the journey, will abuse it.

We all know the stories and have experienced people who should have been ministering to us but instead used our grief to flex their own power however great or small. This is the dark side of ministry. When power gets mixed up with service, people get hurt.

The question we clergy should be asking is: how do we exercise spiritual authority and not let it become an abuse of power feeding our own ego?

Rain and Science

General, thought of the day

Every day I give a thought in a staff meeting. Since it is the Festival Season in the Jewish faith, I have used thoughts from that tradition for some time. Today’s was really good. It focuses on the relationship between science and faith. It comes from the desk of the Chief Rabbi in the UK.

 

For Jews the festival season is well and truly on us. We’ve just celebrated the New Year and the Day of Atonement, and next week we have Sukkot, known in English as Tabernacles. It’s difficult to explain Sukkot in Britain, especially this year, because it’s a festival of prayer for rain, whereas here we’ve had all too much of it, including the floods still doing damage in York, Liverpool and Wales. But in the Holy Land, where the Bible is set, rain was and still is the scarcest resource and without it there’s drought and famine.

So on Sukkot we take four kinds of things that need rain to grow: a palm branch, a citron, and leaves from a willow and myrtle tree, and holding them we thank God for rain and pray for it in the Holy Land in the year to come – even if we happen to be living in the soggiest of climates. Sukkot is, if you like, a festival about the fragility of nature as a habitat hospitable to humankind.

The natural world is something science and religion both speak about in their very different ways. Science explains; religion celebrates. Science speaks, religion sings. Science is prose, religion is poetry and we need them both.

Science continues to inspire us in the way it reveals the intricacy of nature and the power of the human mind. Rarely was this more so than earlier this year with the almost certain confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, which someone with a sense of humour called the God particle on the grounds that it exists everywhere but it’s so hard to find.

But science can sometimes make us think we’re in control, which is why we need moments like Sukkot to restore our sense of humility. We’re so small in a universe so vast, and our very existence depends on an extraordinarily delicate balance between too much and too little, whose symbol is rain. Too much and we have floods. Too little and we have drought.

So as well as knowledge we need wisdom, and the better part of wisdom is knowing that we are guardians of a universe we can easily endanger and which we still don’t fully understand. Perhaps it’s not crazy, once a year, to lift our eyes toward heaven, the way we do when we’re praying for rain, and remember how dependent we are on things beyond our control. The more scientific knowledge and power we have, the more humility we need.

We – lets be honest eh?

General

The thing that gets me about politics – yes, I have political opinions and for all my “I’m above all that” attitude I like to believe about myself, I continually get sucked into the muddy slog that is politics in this country – the thing that gets to me is the spin. I know, I know – it’s all spin right?

Of course it is, I know it, and it still gets to me.

I’m fine with a party or viewpoint understanding and expressing the world as they see it. We all do it! I do it! It starts to bother me when a person is doing that and not understanding that they are doing it. When they get all puritan about their particular belief as though they don’t do the very same thing.

It gets to me when, to defend the viewpoint, we tend to not acknowledge when our viewpoint is just another expression of the opposite one.

Like when liberals, in defense of good and effective government, don’t admit that there are parts of are government that are, in fact, way to big, too inefficient, and needs to get smaller.

And conservatives, who, in defending the idea that we have too much government imply that they are these independent folks that don’t ever take anything from government!!

Of course we do. We ALL take from government.We ALL use government subsidies. I really enjoyed this clip on “Here and Now” about that very idea. It is right and proper to talk about how much and how efficiently our government spends our money – lets just be real about it.

To paraphrase my CPE Supervisor – lets stop talking about “them out there” (who clearly are evil, greedy, socialist, bleeding heart whatever, them who are not us) and start talking about We. We who benefit from our government. We who all pay taxes is so many ways. We who are responsible to hold our representative accountable for how they govern. We who would rather do just about anything then get informed. We who are the problem and believe that “them out there” are the problem.

We need to fix this. All of us. Honestly.

We are rich and we are poor – living with it.

Sermon

poor” – it’s a word with baggage in our culture. Every four years about this time, it’s a political word – most other times it’s either equated with guilt or anger. Seems like we either feel guilty for not doing more or angry for perceived abused of the system.

Today’s Text was all about the poor. It is a sermon that I approached with some trepidation. My goal was to preach the Scripture without it being a. political, b. some guilt inducing rant, or c. a progressive diatribe. My wife tells me I got there. I went with the Proverbs and James passage.

The central question I dealt with is the one that I think we struggle with – who is poor?

Often, the comparison is made with the poor in third world countries and the poor in America but this is comparing apples and oranges. The two are not the same. The question in my mind is: does this person have resources? See I want to get away from “rich/poor” and focus on resource. Those who are fat in resources (be that money, time, spiritual, emotional etc) verses those who are lacking. A person may not have much money but be rich in time. A person may have a pile o’ money but be destitute in spirit.

Proverbs 22 equates a good name (solid reputation) as transcending riches. The ideas of wealth and poverty are human designations. We put that on each other. Verse 2 does not pass judgement on the rich/poor but does emphasize that God made them both – not that God designated one to be wealthy or one to be poor but that both humans come from God and thus are the same. In the eyes of God – there is no poor/rich category. Verses 7-9 speak of the reality of the rich and poor – once one loans money to another, the relationship is going to be master/servant. Sallie Mae taught me that! Losing that master was a great day in my life! Those verses highlight that there are blessings that are on those who are generous and curses upon those that deal unjustly with the poor. Justice is a value in God’s economy as is a good reputation. Verse 16 highlights how God views oppressing the poor to enrich others – its bad and leads only to poverty in the community! I love this idea that the author points to – when the poor are stolen from to put more in the pockets of those who are rich – everyone loses! The whole community suffers. This thought is continued in 22-23 – the meaning here is understood in terms of power and voice, the poor do not have power to resist, they have no voice, they are “crushed at the gate” (in the ancient city-state the gate is where legal issues were settled, if you had money or resources, then you had voice and could win your issue, the poor have no money, they have no power or voice) – be careful, because God is the legal representation of the poor. That was remarkable to me in this text – using the legal system to take from those who have not to give to those who have is particularly bad for everyone and will bring calamity!!

Clearly, in this text the writer makes the argument that the poor and the rich share the same community. He does not make a moral judgment as to who is better/less than the other but it seems that one has a responsibility to care for the other. To provide some sense of security. Certainly, there is blessing for those who share and calamity for those who oppress.

I covered even more in the James passage but what it comes down to is this – lets not use our politics and emotions around poverty as an excuse to do nothing. We ALL have something to give. Yes, we do need to discover for ourselves what we belive is a lack of resources and what we are willing to give to – but we NEED to give. We all share the same space. We all share the same community. Breathe the same air and all that. We are responsible for one another. Who is poor? Who is destitute? I imagine that needs to be answered by each of us individually but let it not be an excuse for inaction. Let it not be an excuse for superiority. Don’t let a person’s station be just another way to judge and separate them from you. We are called to actually serve. Actually DO something. The poor and rich will always be with us. But those separations don’t have to BE us. We can be different. Let love and service to others be the defining characteristic of a Christian.