Martha Stewart in a Collar--Not.

Posted by: Richenda at Monday July 28, 2014 in

I read a post on a clergy website today that I could myself have written just a few years ago. The post was a plea for wisdom—and there are some wise and wonderful people on that site—from those with more experience on the job. The plea was for life-work balance, how to find it!? How to balance the pastorate, the family, seminary, that sermon on Sunday…

Pastors work hard. This job is a vocation—a calling—not a paycheck. We do it because God has called us in, through, and by the people we serve, in visions, by inspiration, by scripture, by practice. This is a job that calls out every branch, root, and shoot of our being.

I am sure this is why some of the earliest religious people were hermits!

The question that was posted is sadly unanswerable. How do you serve the pastorate, the people, the baptizand, the dying, the grieving, the betrothed, the confirmands, the Eucharist, your kids, your spouse, your church family, your not-yet church family, your never-thank-you church family, and your own spiritual and biological needs? Frankly, you can’t.

It’s like the world expects you to be a nerdy-yet-pastoral Martha Stewart in a black shirt and collar. You sure look efficient and ecclesiastical, but the Stewart-Mogul superpower stuff is not where your own power is coming from. It cost you real energy to iron that shirt. No one was there to press it for you because you are a servant of God in a smallish community. Forget an actual assistant (who wouldn’t iron in any case), you are still working on getting a reliable powerpoint person for Sunday mornings.

As I reflected on the post this morning—and my own struggles with those very same issues—I reflected on the story of the Good Samaritan. I like to keep the first reading of any biblical story as true as possible to its original meaning and social context. But having done that, I like to be open also to the ways biblical stories break free of their origins to provide meaning and metaphor in some new way.

For me the story of the Good Samaritan turned a new way today, a new facet opened up. I thought about the naked wounded stranger in the story, lying there, desperate or dead. A remember Jesus’s admonition regarding the priest in the story, a man of God who had walked by the stranger without looking, without helping, without a second glance.

In the story I can imagine it, a hurried priest sensing the nearness of yet one more broken person tugging at his sleeve. I feel the adrenaline and the cortisol spike, the quick breath and rapid heartbeat as the priest is beset with a sudden panic, a sudden self-preservation, and sudden desire to flee. I see him hike up his robes to facilitate speed. I see him hurrying on by, his head deliberately turned down or aside in fear; he has nothing left to give but the hard-hearted boundary of his incapacity or refusal to see. It is validating evidence, at the least, of the reality of the sheer desperate condition of the man he leaves behind him.

Years ago I would have joined my voice to Jesus’s hearers of that story. I would lift a rousing ‘Yeah!’ ‘Amen, Rabbi!’ ‘Preach!’ . Can you imagine that faithless beetle-priest, I would scoff, scurrying by when a naked stranger, beaten and bruised, lay in need in the street!

Today I might lift a small and plaintive whine and say, “But, Jesus, have you seen her/his schedule? Do you have you any idea how tabbed out this month’s Google Calendar is? I did three funerals this week, on top of everything else!”

As a cleric—as a person—I see many naked strangers, and I leave a lot of things undone. I cannot stop for everyone. I cannot give to every cause. I cannot fix the brokennesses of a single day or hour let alone a month. I am guilty, even when wearing priestly garb, of hiking up my robe and scurrying away. I cannot be the help or the catharsis that many people need.

I am trying to make friends with this, but I am not glad to be too-often the example of the “bad” insider while the “good” outsider—with nothing better to do than troll around scamming people of their pots and pans, mind you!—gets all the credit for helping out.

Being a pastor means that even if I work 24 hour days without sleeping strangers will still be left naked and the laundry won’t get done. It means I will scramble at the last minute before the funeral because I forgot I hadn’t ironed that shirt yet. It means in a busy week I get to choose between offering a canned or lackluster sermon or staying up and compromising my sleep.

Being a pastor means I have to learn to let things go undone.

The goal is to empower and teach the congregation, to lift up their gifts and capabilities. This is an especial challenge in a congregation where skills must be grown, or there is simply not people with the skills needed. It means you are working around your limitations trying to resource your needs as best you can. And that is beetle-like, indeed. It is a hunkering-down and it is work.

But I am praying and I am listening and I am learning. And most of all, I am learning to let things go undone.

This really isn’t a choice. I need to do this not simply for ‘balance’ but to maintain real and meaningful reserves, as well. A religious leader reacts to the schedule-god, the tick-tock fix-it god, the panic-god that you forgot, again, that thing you were supposed to do. A Spiritual leader responds to Christ. A Spiritual leader prioritizes tasks gently and recognizes in the undone gaps opportunities for the Spirit to work in ways that won’t be all about you and what you can or can’t do.

A Spiritual leader doesn’t just let things go undone, a Spiritual leader lets things get undone.

A Spiritual leader awaits the outcome surprise and accepts limitations and mystery. A ‘Good Samaritan,’ who knew! I mean, how cool is that? Awaiting God’s surprises means a Spiritual leader can walk by the naked stranger without having to scuttle away like a bug, because they have faith that God is there and working to make things right—even if you can’t imagine it right now. A Spiritual leader recognizes that they are not the only game in town and are not the only one in and through whom God works. In God’s world there is no insider tyranny because the outsiders get some glory, too.

They often get a lot of glory, as a matter of fact. Sometimes all of it.

I find that hopeful.

Those of us who are called know that there is so much to do. We know we must be leaders even amidst the great sea of all that is undone. But, think about it, if God isn’t rushing in to fill every pothole, then maybe we are not called to do that, either. We need to model faithful Spiritual leadership and recognize that failure to jump to unrealistic and unhelpful expectations is actually a win. In leaning on the great work of God, we reject the deification of self and the human conceit of god-the-clock. In letting go of chronos, we discover that God is so much, much bigger than that.

So chillax with me.

(And, yes, it is really hard to do. And, yes, I am still working on it.)

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