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.

Why God?

The first question tiny humans ask is “why” beginning at about age 3 with a vengeance. Even when the real question is how or what or who, they ask why. Parenting websites are full of advice on ways to handle the incessant questioning, I remembering conquering this stage with some redirection and answering the question I thought my children were actually asking. Still, isn’t it interesting that the question we ask first is the one we continue to ask of our God most throughout our lives?  We rarely get the answer we want, yet we keep asking.

Why, God, did the fridge go out just as we were stating to get our bills caught up? Why Why why did our loved ones have to die so soon, before we were ready to let them go? Why do our children take that first drink, that first hit off of a pipe? Why won’t our kids answer our emails, texts, accept our apologies? Why is there such anger, hatred, divisiveness in our world? Why did my husband have his job taken away just after we bought a car, when we finally were starting to see some financial security? The questions go on and on, I am sure you have many of your own. In times of great pain and hardship and worry, the questions come faster and louder. Our faith holds us up as we shout our queries to the heavens. Why, God?

Anne Lamott says the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty. Asking why doesn’t mean we have little faith, it means we are human. It means we just don’t understand what we are to do next, how we are to cope. Like the 3 year old, our real question may be how. How do I go on? How do I survive this disaster and not fall into a pit of despair? Maybe the question is what. What is expected of me as a Christian in the face of this unthinkable pain? What am I to do when people are mean and I want take a time-out from Jesus walking and just punch them or lash out or tell the truth about them while they are sharing my secrets? Maybe the real ask is when. When is enough enough, when will my sorrow have reached the breaking point? When will real change come and I no longer have to be fearful? I wonder sometimes if the question isn’t who. Who are you God. During our most hurt and afraid times, we seek out the face of the One we need, like the child who wants mom even when mom just sent her to time-out. We want to see God, want comfort when we feel alone and scared and worried that we are in this messed up world making big choices all by ourselves. Ultimately, the question is can God handle our questioning? I think He welcomes them.

I remember when my kids first started asking their “whys.”  When Plum’s began I was more than ready. The curiously about their world, the readiness to explore and discover meant we were about to have many conversations. It meant I was going to be challenged to be present, to give them my outmost attention. My words were going to count with them, I had a chance to make an impact, right then.  Until the day we stopped talking, both of my children still came to me to help explain their worlds. Plum asks me questions everyday. I relish my role as information guru. Just last night mama called with a question as she and Plum were reading a book about space and Plum wonder where Heaven was in relation to outer space. Mama wanted to get the words right, thought maybe they better call in some back up. On speaker phone, I asked questions myself. “Plum, where is God?” Heaven.  “Where else?”  Everywhere.  “Who made the sun, the stars, the moon, outer space?”  God.  Okay Gran, I get it, Heaven is where God is and heaven is everywhere. Goodbye. He quickly hung up, satisfied with his own answer, settling the query himself.

I know that teaching our children to ask the real questions and learn to find the answers for themselves is one of the most rewarding parts of parenting. Is it any less so for God? Maybe He gets a little weary of our asking in times of trouble, “Why me, God?”, when there are so many who are hurting more deeply.  But like a patient parent, He shows up to listen and guides us to the answers. Not always the ones we want, maybe a little redirection is in order, but still, we get the answer we need. So as I rise each morning and ask God how much longer, I find something else to do while I wait. I find a woman who needs help filling out the paperwork to go visit her son her prison and then needs a ride to get there. I find that a friend recently diagnosed with cancer, a friend who has graced my door with meals so many times over the years, could use the efforts of my cooking ability today. I mumble how much longer and then I get busy writing up a newsletter article or agreeing to be an usher. God redirects my whining and moaning into worthwhile activity and I forget that I was asking a question. I remember that the world is also hurting and I have something to help heal a small piece of it.  I figure out where God is and then I go see some of HIs people.

Why God? Why do You keep loving us when we make such a mess of things? Why do You stay so faithful when we stray? Why do You show such forgiveness when we just don’t?  Really those are the why questions that matter. The only answer is grace.  Let us all practice answering with extra grace whatever is asked of us. Those annoying angry bitter hurtful questions may just be hiding a real ask for comfort and grace. Can’t we offer that light today? Maybe figuring out where God is and showing up there, that will bring us all closer to the answers.