Now that things are a little more settled with move-in I’m dividing my time between unpacking and working on my Endorsement Essay, for the second phase of the ordination process in the ELCA. As I began reading through the preparation materials I found myself reflecting on where it is that I fit in years and years of history of the church as a perspective rostered leader. Throughout my time working toward my MDiv and as I begin this next phase of my journey I have come to realize that there is no possible way that I will ever be a cookie cutter pastor. Not if I wish to remain authentically true to who I am as a person and as a child of God. That’s just not in my blood.
So what does that mean for my ministry? I think that it means that instead of being hypercritical of my faults and weaknesses as a human being, instead of striving for some other entity’s preconceived notion of what it means to be a “good pastor,” that engaging ministry using those weaknesses as strength is a pretty good place to begin, at least for me.
I’ve always had pretty high expectations for myself whether in school, dance, theatre , or anything else I happened to be involved in. When I fail to meet my own expectations, however realistic, or not, they happen to be, I beat myself up about it with a vengeance that few other people can inflict. What I’ve noticed is that in many, many cases the church and society on a wider level has the same problem: Sky high expectations of its religious leaders as people. Pastors, and other religious leaders, are often placed in an unwarranted space somewhere between God (in God’s varying incarnations) and people.
Finding oneself in that place is toxic, and I’ve seen it already start in me. It’s usually little things like when I’m asked by a new person what it is that I do, and say that I’m studying to be a pastor the fear I see in my conversation partner’s eyes takes me aback, what’s more, so does the almost inevitable apology for possibly cursing in my presence. All I can do in that situation is laugh and respond with a smile and an “I don’t give a shit.” to put myself back on level ground with who I’m with almost as if I have to prove that I’m a real person just like they are. I don’t like being put on a pedestal for my calling, heights never really did anything for me. Knowing that this is the case for so many clergy people, in ways far greater than my own experience as a Seminarian, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the rate of depression is so high for the clergy.
There’s a song on James Marsters’ album Like A Waterfall called “Looking at You.” The chorus is simple.
“Look at me, looking at you, looking at me, looking in your eyes.”
That’s where I want my ministry to fall. I want to subvert the idea that a pastor is perfect. That we have all our ducks in a row, our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed. While I can’t speak for others I know that this certainly won’t be the case for me. I want to be down in the dirt of ministry, as an individual, with just as many flaws and broken places as those with whom I serve. I refuse to be put in a place where I’m forced to look down to see and experience the troubles of my congregation, and where they would (metaphorically) look up to see what it is they’re meant to do to cope. I have no desire for that kind of power dynamic, nor do I find it helpful. I want to be able to look into the eyes of those with whom I serve, and walk along side them, intentionally and on even footing.
In the video posted above Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber avows that it is in the shared experience of brokenness that we connect to one another, as well as to God and that resonates so much with what I believe. Out of my brokenness I’ve found a measure of strength that wouldn’t have existed if not for those experiences. The scars, far tougher than what was there before the wound. This is the only way I can be an authentic leader, and if that makes me a subversive minister then I look forward to the challenge.
“Our shared brokenness is what actually what connects us to each other and to God.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
“Look at me, looking at you, looking at me, looking in your eyes.” – “Looking at You” by James Marsters