Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Helicopter Pastor

I am not, or at least I try not to be, a helicopter parent.   You know the sort, the ones who schedule every last moment of their child's lives, and whose rotor-wash manages to blow every last particle of fairy-dust whimsy out of childhood.

I do not wish to be that sort of parent, because that approach to children has very little to do with loving them, and a whole bunch more to do with our own anxieties about ourselves.

It can, as the latest in a series of fretful articles highlighted this week, cripple the development of our protected, they become vulnerable, so carefully managed, they have no idea how to live for themselves.

Aaaah!  We're so anxious, we're anxious that we're anxious!   We're meta-anxious!

They're everywhere in DC.  I see them as I walk.  I like to walk.   Walking is so much better than driving.  It allows me to go slow, to take time to really observe the world around me.

I walk past one parent, sitting outside of a kid's music lesson, car idling with the windows up on a beautiful late spring afternoon, fiercely texting and then arguing with their spouse about schedules over a cell.

There is another, the loudest of a cluster of parents shouting instructions on a sports field, running the carefully scheduled activity that now fills time that once would have been filled with childhood's blissful freedom.

"Watch me, all of you," she barks on the softball field to a gathering of ten year old girls, all helmeted and wearing complex black metal face guards.  Face guards?  Since when did softball require a mask for every single player?  There's a small fortune in orthodontia to protect, I suppose.

"This is how you call it," she says, motioning to one of the five other parents to knock a ball skyward.  "MINE MINE MINE MINE!"  And she catches it cleanly.

"Again!  Watch me, Tyler!  TYLER!  EYES UP!  NOW!  MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE!"

An ice cream truck rings its bell forlornly in the parking lot, but there are no takers.  Though the park is full of children after a long day of school on a warm May evening, these are not children at play.  They are on task.

I wonder just how many pastors approach their congregations the same way.  Every moment, carefully structured and controlled and directed.  Every meeting, carefully planned.   Task forces and subcommittees to review guidelines and protocols.

The image...heck, the BRAND...must be protected.

There can be no mess, no failure, no spiritual equivalent of a stubbed toe or a black eye or a skinned knee.  What if things don't go well?  What if things go downhill?  What if people don't believe exactly what we say in our carefully thought out set of theological positions?  What will my peers think?  Jesus will be mad at me!

The pastor frets and tightens their control, and the children of God find themselves pressed into activity after activity, every moment accounted for.

Planned. Safe.  Joyless.