Sunday, April 7, 2019

Being Paid To Love People

As the adult education class in my congregation moves on to our next study, we're delving into the writing of Barbara Brown Taylor.

She's an Episcopalian, and a writer and speaker of justifiable and longstanding repute.  When I was but an earnest seminarian O so many moons ago, her book The Preaching Life was one of the primary texts in my homiletics class.  It's one of those books that stuck with me, her writing rich and alive.  Her articulation of the vocation to which I then aspired felt powerfully real, in both a spiritual and visceral way.

So she's where we're going next, as we explore with her the place of darkness in the life of faith.

But there was a caveat as I start reading her again after 20 years, one that I had filed away somewhere in the back of my brain.  She's no longer a pastor.  She set that aside, and moved on.  There was a book about that choice, because of course there was.  Leaving Church, it was titled.  It seemed worth exploring the why of that before we got into reading her.  You know, in case she left because she'd discovered her true calling was to be a Laveyian Satanic Priestess.  Or that she'd become a disciple of Ayn Rand.  Six of one, half dozen of the other. lieu of adding that book to the stack...I went and listened to the NPR book tour interview I knew I'd find if I looked.

The reasons for her choice to move on were familiar.  

First, fatigue with the church as an institution.  As her church grew and expanded on the wings of her entirely justified reputation, it became more complicated.  More structures were required, both organizational and physical.  Things that are and should be simple became more and more complex.  It became too much.

Second, fatigue, period.  If you're the pastor, you're the one folks look to expecting them to do and be everything.  And unless you're one of that small number of humans who are actually made of coffee, that can't be sustained.  You get tired. 

Third, there was her acknowledgement that anxious introverts are often not the best pastors.  Lord have mercy, do I feel that one.

And then, finally, the last one: her gnawing, soul-subverting feeling that she was being paid to love people.  You know, being that you're the Official Certified Jesus Professional, what with your salary and your benefits and all.  You sit with people, you listen to them, you pray with them and share the most joyous and painful parts of their lives because, well, that's what they pay you for.

What that little whispering demon says to a pastor is this:  This is false.  You're faking it.  You take something radically personal and intimate, you commodify it, and in doing so, you kill the soul of it.  It becomes a drab, exhausting, inauthentic act.

That, as much as anything, was why Brown Taylor "left the church."

It's a good reminder to be ourselves, to let our care for others flow from a place of Christ-centered identity...and to be sure in all of that that we're being true to our calling.