Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon: The Wrap-up

It's time to wrap up the thread on the ET. I'm sure most of you have figured out the the point of the whole thing was to relate my personal experiences as a former pastor with the institutional church. The basic conclusion I've come to is that most institutional churches are not able to successfully deal with and integrate former pastors. Whether the fault lies with the churches or the individuals will be debated for a long time. Former pastors can be a tremendous benefit to the life and ministry of any church if said church can get over the stigmatization of the "fallen pastor". Till then they will continue to serve as those who will do the dirty work that no one else wants to do. I hold out little hope that much will change.
Since I started the blog on this topic the pastor that I worked with, and then was thrown under the bus by(so to speak)because I opposed his building project, has resigned and now lives in an adjacent town. He now finds himself in the position(if he doesn't take another church) of possibly ending up as an ET. I do not wish this upon him and I think he will eventually come back in some official capacity maybe as a "fill-in" in some of the local churches in the area. He did manage to escape the situation he created(big new building,drop in attendance and finances) remarkably intact. He self diagnosed himself with MS (forgive me if he really does suffer from MS) and told the congregation that he had to leave the ministry because of the stress it was causing him and his family. I personally tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac (I thought I had Lupus once because of the symptoms listed on a billboard) and think this may be the case here. I will retract all comments and apologize in print if I am wrong. Sad to say when I heard he had bailed out and left the church, I was tempted to self-diagnose myself with Tourette syndrome and utter a few choice epithets. I have calmed down since then and realize the blame lies as much with the congregation that voted for all his proposals.
But the question I have to ask is why does a clergyman have to pull his membership when he steps out of the pulpit. Isn't he also responsible to help pay for what the group voted on? This is not the case though because of the very nature of the institutional beast. Correct me if I'm wrong but are there any examples of pastors remaining viable members of the congregation after stepping out of the pulpit(other than retirement)? I would love to hear it's possible. I'm afraid the ET model continues to thrive however. Since I live in an adjoining community I will no doubt hear what transpires in his life. Being an unrepentant skeptic I believe we will once again see the Ecclesiastical Tampon effect repeat itself. If that occurs I wonder if his personalized license plate will be changed from "DA REV" to "DA RAG". (I know it's horrible of me to type that but I couldn't bring my fingers to hit the backspace key). Come to think of it let him keep "DA REV", I'll gladly continue to do the lowly dirty jobs, it's where I've found the person of Jesus to be most evident. ET on his way home!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seasons of the Soul

Several weeks ago I finally pulled the plug on Facebook, something I've been thinking about for some time. Don't get me wrong it has been difficult not knowing what crops Farmville is growing or how many hammers were needed to build Frontierville but I got on FB originally to expand my connection with folks of like mind and ones I'd lost contact with. This was accomplished in ways that I could not have imagined. I reestablished contact with folks I had lost track of and was able to catch up on 20+ years of silence. Now that contact was reestablished it was great to converse with them by phone and email(the old means of communication ;)). I also gained many new friends who I have never had the joy of meeting face to face. This is a blessing I hope to fully experience as I contemplate slowing down and traveling more purposefully to visit these friends.
Sorry to say along the way I also picked up a multitude of "friends" who were only seeking to promote their own agenda, book, conference, website, etc. I even found myself falling into the self promotion trap by accumulating as many "friends" as possible to increase my FB standing. The silliness peaked when an author who I met once at Solomons Porch, announced that he had reached his limit of FB friends and might have to open a second page to accommodate the multitudes waiting to befriend him. Sheesh! I immediately went into my settings and deleted him. Now he had room for 1 more adoring friend.
The truly disturbing thing that happened though is I found people with whom I used to converse regularly(some live within 1/2 mile of me) now were communicating only on FB. I realize that we are a busy society with many things to occupy our time. But have things gotten so bad that a phone call has become the letter of our modern age? Or maybe it's just a convenient way to shuffle pesty individuals like myself to the back burner where we can be easily forgotten. I'm beginning to think the latter since I have found my absence on FB has not been noticed. Rather humbling,eh? I have also noticed in my own life as I get closer to the final curtain some of the things that used to interest me no longer seem so important. Instead the thing I value most is close face to face communication with friends of like mind. And please don't give me the institutional church rap which is only one step removed from the FB schtick. I'm beginning to understand the words of Paul as he contemplated the final moments of his earthly life. He had only a few close friends and longed to spend time with as many as possible. That prospect is beginning to look very good to me also. BTW I wonder if Paul would have had a FB page? Call me lets get together for coffee!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon Part 2

One of the most interesting things to watch in the institutional church is the time when a former pastor shows up at his former church. The reactions of all involved are rather unique. I've had opportunity to be on both sides of the situation. When an extremely popular pastor comes back to visit after moving up in the clergy pecking order, the current pulpit occupant(me in the story) immediately goes into a slight panic. After all you've had the opportunity to hear how wonderful Rev. SoandSo was and what a shame it was to lose him(I came from that sort of men only group). He and his family were the best and his wife could play piano like......blah,blah, you know the rest. You feel guilty even daring to occupy the same pulpit space as this gifted icon! So you put on the beaming happy face and invite him to open in prayer, share his testimony, close the service etc. all the time praying that he's not moving back into the area. You preach like there's no tomorrow and hope the aisles clog with repentant sinners, and the former pastor arises before all and calls you blessed and loosens your sandal(never seems to happen). It usually ends well though as people remember that the former pastor did have flaws and maybe you aren't so bad after all. What about the time you find yourself in the opposite position?

Before I continue let me clarify one thing about former pastors. If you have moved on or up in church circles you are acceptable even though you left your previous church. If you leave the professional ministry altogether and work in the "secular" world you are to be most pitied. You've not only left your previous church, you've abandoned the call of God, and probably become a reprobate. Your morals are open to suspicion and whatsoever thou doest shall not prosper. Woe to you if you are divorced because now (as the wagging heads acknowledge) you could not control your own household so how could you control the house of God? There is only one reason for you to ever show up to your former church and that is to fall on your face and admit your guilt. It won't change your situation but it will prove your accusers right. Remember we are dealing with folks who may have descended from those previous saints who determined that persons accused of witchcraft were guilty if they floated and thus were subsequently burned. Or they were innocent if they drowned, causing the departed much joy I'm sure. There just is no other way of saying it but the stigma scarlet letter EX-PASTOR seems to follow us all of our lives. So when you do venture back into the institution as I did you find one office that has been prepared for you and is awaiting your arrival. Come with me next time and survey the sign on your office door which says in bold scarlet letters: ECCLESIASTICAL TAMPON. By the time we're done I hope many of us EX's will rejoice to be there.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon

Back in the days following my divorce, when I reentered the relationship/dating scene, it didn't take long for me to figure out that I was no longer the "catch" that I once thought I was. And eventually I found myself in one of those relationships where you realize that you are being kept around for reasons other than the ones you think you are. In the nutshell I was being used. When the light finally came on I decided to make that phone call(much easier than face-to-face). I thought I had the ultimate exit call when I told her on the answering machine that I was tired of being used and in a line from one of Jimmy Buffet's songs told her "if the phone doesn't ring it's me". The angry message I got back on my answering machine told me I had hit home. I haven't spoken to her since but have gotten feedback from mutual friends that I ended up being the villain in the whole thing. Oh well.
Several years later a buddy of mine and I were trading relationship war stories and I found out he had trumped my exit line. He was one of those guys who wasn't a good catch either because he was a nice guy and believed in treating women with respect. So he regularly got the "you're my best friend/like-a-brother" speech as he watched her run back to the abusive but "perfect hunk" kinda guy. One particularly rough episode ended and in his exit speech(think it was on the phone), he told her that he was tired of being there when she was hurt only to watch her run back to the "fix-it-up" (my word) project after she healed. He then asked her "What am I some kind of emotional tampon you use when your hurting, then throw away when you're done?". You can imagine the reaction! My friend now is married with a family and I pray that all goes well with him. The girl in the story I have no idea what happened to her.
I've been thinking that the "tampon" analogy might be a good way to describe my relationship with the organized "church" since I've left the professional pastorate. A few other leftovers like myself have come to the same conclusion. I know that the tampon analogy makes most women cringe and it's probably as popular a word in most churches as "condom". But for being an example of an extremely necessary item yet one which is regarded most often with disgust tampon seems to fit the bill. So how does this apply to ex-pastor/teachers and our relationship to the organized church? I'll explore that in upcoming posts. What do you you think?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Making a silk purse out of a Boar(omeus') ear

Well I got in from the open road and found (much to my glee)2 pre-pub copies of Tony Jones' new book "The Teaching of the 12" in my I sat down and immediately read the book. Tony and I had discussed the book many months ago and I was curious to see the final draft. What I found was much better than I could have ever dreamed or imagined.
By the time I finished I again came to appreciate the mind and heart that God put into Tony. His ability to communicate difficult material is something I envy. He took a document (Didache) and brought it to relevance in the present and into the future. Most importantly he made us (the Cymbrogi) look like we actually knew what we were doing in our spiritual journey! All joking aside I really appreciate the friendship that Tony and I have established and count him as one of our "companions of the heart".
I hope the book does well and changes the direction of many as they seek to become church as Christ intended. Thanks Tony for making us feel that the lives we have lived may count for the greater good of the Kingdom. I'm always ready for the next road trip.
God bless you brother,thanks.
Grace and Peace

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's called snakeoil y'all

Visited with one of the Cymbrogi who lives in an adjoining town yesterday before the basketball game. By the way I'm happy to report that the Maysville Jr. High girls team won the championship and my close friends daughter scored the winning basket. I was able to video the game and show it to the dad who was with the younger daughter for a grade school tournament at another location. They won also. We don't just sit around here in NW Missouri and watch the grass die y'know!
Before the game I was at the home of one of the families who participated in the house church "experiment" we had going on several years ago. Of course we made the mistake of letting the "powers that be" in on the news and ended up being scattered as a result. All for the good (at least from my perspective). Anyway my friend shared that the new fellowship they were involved in had just finished a "revival". He seemed appropriately beat up and punished that I knew something had happened.
Revivals for those of you unfamiliar with the term usually occur once a year for about a week. The effects usually wear off in a month or two so they are a little more severe than the h1n1 virus. The way it works is a local congregation will bring a visiting preacher from another town usually far enough away that the locals don't know him, or a retired clergyman of some sort who supplements his retirement income with love offerings. To be fair many of these men(come on women preachers?Horror), are very devout men who reject the monetary reward and do this because of their passion for God and the Bible. Sometimes congregations will do a sort "pulpit exchange" program (it's easier than pew exchange) and ministers will trade places for a week and preach to congregations other than their own. Having participated in these myself it's a good opportunity for the two clergymen to get their heads together and let each other know what their congregations need to hear. Works really great if you're trying to pay off a building by getting the offerings up. The two preachers then speak to the respective congregations for a week and seek to get them "revived" from what ever they have become "deceased" in.
Out in Oregon in the Fundamentalist Bible church I was saved in these events were called "Bible Conferences" and usually consisted of the same preacher coming once a year. He was a former state police officer and Marine Corps officer turned evangelist. The man was a powerful presence in the pulpit and we in the youth group looked forward to his arrival with a sort of mixed dread-awe. His favorite demon to exorcise was rock music and all its attendant companions short skirts, long hair, and facial hair. I'll let you guess which ones were directed at the gals! It was the 60's so there was much to preach against.
The highlight came on Saturday night when we had the "Youth Rally" where we made sure that all our friends were there to suffer with us, lured in by the promise of free pizza and unsuspecting girls with really short skirts. Then came the glorious bonfire where we burned the accumulated evil tokens of our idolatry. Those of us who had been there all week came prepared with our collection of Stones, Beatles, Turtles and other albums which sounded weird played backwards, and cast them into the flames much to the amazement of the uninitiated. There was much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth as we watched the vinyl melt and burn. No short skirts or long hair were ever cast into the flames to my recollection. A round of "Kum-by-yah" or "It Only Takes a Spark" and the invitation to come to follow Christ and the evening ended so we could get up in time on Sunday to hear the evangelist tell us how many teens had come to the truth.
Being a very devout teen my revival lasted a bit longer than most, but inevitably the time would come when we were hanging out together at one of our homes a pristine copy of one of the torched albums would appear in a record collection. We knew then that the revival or conference had officially ended and it was time to gather fuel for next years bonfire. It was a normal part of growing up a fundamentalist teen. Most of us now still own CD's or MP-3 downloads of the "evil" music which comes on regularly on the oldies stations or on the elevators we occasionally ride.
Recently I noticed that bonfires are still in fashion in North Carolina and memories of the old days came back. This time however it was books mostly I believe that were being burned. It made me wonder if this retro-revival would eventually regress to the days of the authors themselves being burned. Since I have been called a Heretic and The Devil recently on Youtube on the New Christians videos with Tony Jones I have been thinking what music I would like played at my bonfire should those wonderful days of olde return. Is it out of the question to request "Light My Fire" by the Doors?
Grace and Peace and a Tongue in Cheek,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where we've been, where we're going

I believe when I started this blog I mentioned that I hate to write and have to force myself to sit down and write. I think Frank W. would agree and finds himself in the same position. We have both been busy with our respective occupations and have not had opportunity to sit down and write. I thought I would however write a few words to let all who follow this blog know that we are both alive and well.
Frank W and I have talked and we both are overwhelmed at the amount of material being written about "church" in its various forms and all the multitude conferences which seem to spring up on a regular basis to discuss how "church" should look and act. Last time FW and I met for coffee in Minneapolis we both lamented that we don't need more books and meetings but rather we need to live in alignment with what we already know. So I'm going to sound like a total hypocrite when I tell you that one of the things I've been involved with is a book by Tony Jones called The Teaching of the Twelve coming out this month. Tony asked me over a year ago if I was interested in being a part of the book. The book is a retranslation and reinterpretation of an early Christian document dating to the time of the Gospels. As it was, our group was studying the document and finding some exciting things which we were integrating into the way we understood and did "church". When I presented the idea to the others of participating with Tony in the book all were in agreement that it was a worthy project and covered areas of discussion which were relatively scarce in the church today.
As we worked on the book we(who in the process have found a really "cool" sounding name with which to refer to ourselves: Cymbrogi) found our frustrations and anger toward the organized institutional church we had been a part of resurface and came to realize we needed to repent of arrogant attitudes which were developing. OK, it was mostly my problem! Thankfully the editor caught the attitudes and hopefully the book will be be a positive contribution to what life as church can be. So, I think we have contributed something to the sea of literature out there which doesn't tread over the same familiar ground of the last few decades. If conferences arise don't blame me I'll let Tony handle that. :)
The other thing which the Cymbrogi have been looking at is the alternative view of prophecy called preterism. Although still in its early study stages we are finding some interesting stuff out there which is already challenging long held ideas we have had. Of course this involves.....buying more books! It never ends does it FW? Got to keep the bookstores going so you can feed the family. It amazes me how rich the history of the faith is when you're willing to look beyond the last 50 years of church history. More to come as we discover new areas of study. It rounds out the practical "out-living" of the faith. Well time to wrap this up and go watch some of my friends young-uns play basketball and church with some Cymbrogi in an adjoining community.
Grace and Peace to all!