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.

Back into Place

He said to just relax. An impossible request with the pain clouding all thoughts as I lay prone on the floor, hoping the beasts wouldn’t take this as an invitation to play. My pelvis had popped out of place again, several days of excruciating pain with any movement, inability to stand without a groan escaping meant I couldn’t hide my condition. With enough physical therapy sessions under my belt and a long car trip looming, I decided it was time to teach my Chef to do a correction on my tail bone. First I showed him, then I lay down. Relax, he said. But I never relaxed when the professional was working on my twisted body, how could I under these circumstances. And then he touched my tailbone and gasped. Yep, he felt that it was not where it should be, he felt that it was sticking way out.  He pushed like I taught him, he maintained the study pressure, it slide enough that I can walk again. Now I can relax.

I realized as I let the steam from the shower calm the muscles that had tightened and the tendons that were pulled the wrong ways, that I was actually relieved that he had felt the protruding bone. I was vindicated. The culture in my family of origin is one of distrust when I am ill. I didn’t put it all together until recently, how much the family needed to invalidate my truth. Our very existence together required that I not be believed. This story has carried on though into adulthood in ways that are harmful, a story that the family hasn’t considered whether is true, fits, works. It is supported by subtle comments and jokes. Thus my tailbone sticking out and someone in the family touching it instead of a paid healthcare worker pleased me in a sick way.

In the summer before high school, I contracted Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a rare compilation of symptoms that attacked my mouth, throat, and then my insides with blisters and sores. Rushed to the hospital as they fought to diagnose and then find a treatment, my mother was told I might not live through the night. They were preparing to do a trach, I was struggling to breathe. Something worked, some swelling reduced, I began to fight the infections. I was left though with vocal cords that respond to colds with laryngitis almost every time. I was left with kidney issues that have plagued me well beyond pregnancy. I was left with crazy symptoms that have been discounted almost as soon as I left the wheelchair and enter the car to go home. My family made fun of me for losing my voice, it became a thing in our family. The culture of distrusting what I said was so deep that even with this serious event, they all needed to fall back into the habit of invalidating my voice, or lack of one.

For almost 12 years I have been under medical care for an autoimmune disease that seems to be running along the lines of MS. This leaves me unable sometimes to join in, sometimes so exhausted to go to events, often without words by the end of the day. Seasons come where I lose the ability to walk, where I have tremors so badly that I can’t hold a cup. Still, this condition is not believed in my family of origin because that is our culture. Relax, stay stress free, sleep when you need, this is the advice of my neurologist. I have to take care of me. No longer worrying about whether I am believed, whether I am heard, I just carry on. Until today when Chef pushed on that bone.

Much has been written about life in families where alcoholism and sexual abuse occur, the need for secret keeping and the roles each member plays. My honesty was sacrificed every bit as much as my body, my voice had to be silenced. Discrediting me was our glue, an agreement unconsciously made to keep each of us together. With each joke, each jab at me, the whole of the family could relax while I tensed. Knowing now why they couldn’t believe me, that it wasn’t about me but about what else I might say, I can relax. And just like that, everything slides back into place.