Real Pastors

I just read a piece by Anne Lamott in which she describes with total humility how she picked up the wrong passport and missed her flight for an incredibly important speaking engagement. Having shared awhile back how I did the same with my drivers license on a trip to NYC, I felt more bonded than ever to her. Her words were beautiful and real and they led me back into relationship with God like only a true pastor can. The key is that she doesn’t strive to be like God with all His power and knowledge and wisdom and super abilities that win every contest, she shows with each foray into the public that she is that part of Jesus that was human, the pieces that we recognize that are messy, that cause us to ignore parents and wander off in a crowd. She pastors us with us, not from above us, not at us, not to us. She is one of us and we follow.

I am drawn to leaders like her, folks that are not only unafraid to show that they are defective in getting to the airport fully in possession of all appropriate identification but also who know that in doing so, we are better able to find ourselves in each other. The very act of exposing our own weakness is holy, it requires such great trust and vulnerability, it can only come from a place of real faith. Social media posts showing our best moments may make us feel better and portray a beautiful story of our lives to our followers, but is it the true story? I love the Pinterest fail pictures, the real stories of folks who cannot make the cookies look like the easy 1,2,3 instructions, the “do this with your kids on a rainy afternoon” craft projects that turn into utter disasters of glue and feathers and tears. I get those people, I am those people. I can’t relate to the perfect family reunions, the birthday parties where no one gets hit with the pinata bat. I always feel less than, like I have failed before I even begin in those settings. I know I am not ever going to have a Pinterest post of my glorious DIY project, I know I will never preach from my successes. My brokenness is too great, I can’t hide all the scars. I can never compete with the ones who always win the races, why even try?

It isn’t that I am looking for all the wrong, the bad, the dirt on anyone. I am just drawn to the real. I can’t learn from a pastor who preaches above me, at me, who pretends to or even worse, really believes he has all the answers. That really just undermines the message to me, I know he isn’t God and therefore, isn’t perfect and must at some point trip and spill his drink or shout at his children or not win the first prize in every race. These are the stories I need, because that is where I live and where I can be guided out from, into a deeper relationship with God. What do we do when we find ourselves in those very human spots, every day, some days we even spend the whole day there? How do we find God in the messes we make, how do we hear the Holy Sprit in those moments?  I need that roadmap when I am especially covered in dirt and sin, not to see someone sparkling clean who seemingly has never fallen off the path into the ditch.

During this political and social season of screaming and hating and fear and anxiety, I think it is ever more critical that we are able to embrace each other as broken vulnerable humans who “are all just walking each other home” in the words of Ram Dass. It is imperative that we lose any sense of superiority and ego, those are not virtues listed anywhere in the Bible, certainly not characteristics of Jesus. Learning to listen, though, really listen to just one more person each day who has a story that makes them real, ways that may be different from our own realness, like being a bit smellier or unable to keep their kids in their pew at church or obviously eating all the wrong foods (you know the ones, those who eat too much candy and drive-thru hamburgers and rarely have vegetables), listening to their struggles may just put us in touch with our own challenges which we have been tucking away from view. Together we may find we have more in common than we knew, we might begin to heal ourselves and a tiny piece of the world. I love the new Heineken ad that brings people together who believe on the surface that they strongly disagree. What happens is holy, the kind that even includes beer, the kind of holy that allows people to see each other as real for the first time as they become vulnerable. This is pastoring from a most unlikely source and it is glorious.

Ultimately, I have come to see that my Catholic upbringing has left some ideas that just don’t work anymore. Well, many I have cast aside already, but the main issue that has stuck in my mind is that the person who stands before me each Sunday is speaking with a louder voice  because that comes from God. Their message carried more weight because of a divine calling. This may be true, I certainly have a pastor now who speaks Jesus to me like I have never experienced before. And I have to give a shout out to the Pope who is doing the most amazing God work ever, acting out of humility that makes me less anguished about my childhood religious roots. Still, I know more and more that the pastors who lead me are the ones who I find around me in unlikely places, the ones who can reach me where I am. They join me in the muck and then we both can climb out. They are all around me, next to me, speaking and listening and forgetting their important papers. These are my pastors, the ones who are broken and chipped and are listening for the whispers of the Holy Spirit as well. Together, we will all make it home, passports in hand.

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