samedi, novembre 21, 2009

Column: Pastor hopes his story helps other clergy

After I wrote my first of two columns on troubled clergy and what can be done to help keep congregations and clergy healthy ("A disturbing trend among our clergy," Nov. 7, Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Page B5), I realized how helpful it might be to have a clergyperson share his or her own personal story.
While hearing from experts is important, there is both immediacy and power to a first-person account.
I approached five therapists, promising anonymity to someone willing to tell his or her story.
No one was able to find a volunteer.
In a therapeutically oriented society, where reality shows and public confessions are part of our cultural discourse, it seemed significant that these therapists didn't know one clergyperson willing to discuss previous ministry or personal challenges.
Finally, someone I know, currently active in the work of promoting healthier communication among individuals and in congregations, made the decision to open up part of his past.
His name is the Rev. Howard Friend, and he is an ordained Presbyterian minister, founder and lead consultant of the Parish Empowerment Network, and author of "Gifts of an Uncommon Life: The Practice of Contemplative Activism."
In one of his book's chapters, he examines the challenges he faced and how he and his marriage were changed by them. He offered his experiences in hopes that clergy in similar situations might find them helpful.
• • •
When one arrives at midlife, said Friend, "stuff comes up." Sometimes you don't know what you thought you knew for certain. "You are so busy with personal and career development, with making a name for yourself, that you haven't been reflecting on your life."
In his early 40s, Friend was pastor of a church in an affluent Philadelphia suburb — a church that was doing so well that it was studied by a national think tank. He had a circle of friends, a wife and children — and yet he was asking questions like "Does my routine make any sense? Am I making any difference?"
In some ways, Friend didn't suffer from the pressures that can sometimes burden clergy and lead to secrecy and misconduct. His congregation didn't have a blueprint for his family — it wasn't until college that his son knew what the term "P.K." (preacher's kid) meant.
"They knew that I had an obnoxious, off-color, rambunctious side."
While the congregation didn't elevate him to demigod status, he was aware that he had a unique role as a pastor.
"I felt that their demands that I be a role model were reasonable," he said.
And then he met a woman at a conference, someone who shared his affinity for psychology.
"There was something about her that was powerfully engaging. I wanted to be with her and talk to her." In addition, Friend said, he found himself physically attracted to her.
At this point, Friend clearly had a few choices. He decided he was going to tell his wife of many years and go into couple's therapy.
"It was a transitional time that became a transformational time."
Strangely enough, said the pastor, his therapist advocated that he continue to stay in touch with the woman he thought was so attractive. She lived in California, so frequent encounters were not possible.
That advice turned out, in the end, to be really helpful.
"I was drawn to her spiritual heart and depth," he said. "I came to see that she was an object of my projections, parts of me that weren't developed."
On the heels of this revelation, Friend decided to seek closer communion with the divine — on a 30-day retreat in the woods of the Canadian north. And when he came back, following up on the advice of his retreat director, he purposefully renewed and deepened his commitment to his marriage.
In many ways, Friend doesn't fit the "profile" of clergy who get into trouble. He and his spouse had made communication and growth high priorities, both individually and in their marriage. And when they found themselves in tumultuous times, they sought help.
The fruit of his own experience, and his work with hundreds of congregations, has led him to a few conclusions.
• Acknowledge that pastoring a church when so many are in decline is tough, he said.
• Be willing to look at your "shadow side" and find places where you can own up to it without having to act it out.
• Seek friends outside your congregation.
• And if you know that you are lonely, suffering from lack of self-esteem, depressed or impelled toward misbehavior — get help in finding a safe place to open up those broken places and let healing begin.

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vendredi, novembre 20, 2009

Of all the Nerf!!!

A night of high drama in our house.

Oddly enough, it all started with a Nerf gun, apparently aimed at the DQ by her brother. Honestly, you'd have thought he got her with a quick left hook to the kisser.

After I told her that she had plenty of times when she hit Mr. C too, it quickly escalated to: "I want to live with Dad."

When I offered the unwelcome opinion that Dad was far too intelligent to have the DQ live with him all the time, she took off -- to sit by a neighbor's tree. He doesn't love me either, she told me as she walked out the door and down our drive.

Leaving the dinner which I was tending (grits and shrimp, which somehow had become cornmeal and shrimp), I pulled on my boots and followed her brother down the road.

Naturally, every commuter coming into our small development could see us -- the DQ, sitting head bowed under the tree, me with my Halloween flashlight, and Mr. C on his bike. My dreams of a quiet evening of good food (well, my attempt at good food), a movie and two well-behaved, appreciatve kids disappeared.

Interesting idea, wrong planet.

When I finally lured her home with the promise a phone call to an empathetic friend (more so than moi) she was still pissed.

Eventually, though she calmed down. She came upstairs, threw her arms around me and apologized. I know you and Dad love me. I get too dramatic, she said.


jeudi, novembre 19, 2009

The present tense

I am not sure that Eric remembered that today was the second anniversary of dad's death when he sent the email to his cousins before dawn this morning.

Two years have passed very quickly. I haven't reached the point, as most of us do, where the memories of his suffering recede to some extent, and those of more cheerful hours return.

Scan a brief memorial biography of dad, written by a colleague of his at Brooklyn, if you are interested in knowing more about him.

Eric's email wasn't about Dad, however. In many respects, Eric acts as the family historiographer. He's the man to query about long-dead relatives, the grandfather who faithfully sends his cousins videos, the person you want to call when you need information about a family event.

My cousin wanted to let us know that Grandpa's book was edging closer to publication. My grandfather was a turn of the century immigrant, and a rabbi. In his time, he was pretty well known - and in the arena of Judaic studies, still a man of historical importance.

Along with the information, Eric sent along a gift -- words from my father's heart.

His personal reflection on my grandfather will, in some way, become a part of the anthology. When I read the pages this morning, I hear the voice of the writer, with his unique style -- when did you last hear the word "minatory"?

But I also saw admiration, love, and warmth for a man that I hadn't ever known. I learned some family stories Dad hadn't ever told me -- did I never ask?

Just for a few moments, as the light grew, he was present -- as he had always been present, until he left us.

But I think the chain is unbroken.

We, like so many families, are bound by love, and memory, the difficult and disturbing along with the good -- and sometimes the rare, unsought, grace of the present tense.

mercredi, novembre 18, 2009

Party like it's 1984

This morning my former colleague and present friend Mollie posted on a story (loosely) from Politico on the Catholic bishops and abortion. Now, Politico is generally pretty trustworthy when it comes to the wall between opinion and hard news. But read this for yourself and judge whether David Rogers has jumped the line, right into advocacy journalism.

What hot button words does he use? Does he give us clues as to what he thinks? Are the bishops and their ideological opponents fairly represented? Are we being led, as opposed to being given diverse opinions and figuring it out for ourselves?

If you have time do some thinking before you wander over to GetReligion and read Mollie's post. I'm going to make it a little harder by not linking to it so you can't get there right off.

But it's not only liberal journalists who do push their audience. A few days ago one of my good friends forwarded an email she got from someone else. It was a hatchet job on Michelle Obama -- coming out of the so-called "Canada Free Post." It took me seconds to find out that the Canada Free Post is a conservative mutant -- and to find the post debunking most of the Michelle Obama trash talk.

How come folks don't bother to do this before they push "send"? Is it because I'm a mirror-gazing journalist that I even care?

As I wrote my pal, people have good ideological reasons, and some pretty creepy (read "birther") reasons for not liking the Obamas. For Pete's sake, lets be honest about our motives. But my buttons get pushed, big-time, when I see the crap, frankly, that becomes "truth" simply because a friend or relative believes it and sends it on to you.

Should I have called her out on this? Hmmm....not sure. I haven't heard back from her.

With the decline of mainstream journalism, we are losing writers who even make a pretense or take a shot at objectivity. Liberal readers get to take in their drug of choice, while conservatives have plenty of places to go for theirs.

Sounds like George Orwell land to me. But maybe I'm the one who is deluded.

lundi, novembre 16, 2009

Get a kick out of you

I was lucky in high school. In a school in which it was fine to be an egghead New York Jew (not yet a Christian) with curly brown hair and a love of the theater, I was merely one in a group of eccentrics. It was fine to be a nerd -- that's how you got into the school.

Nor was there any pressure to conform to the current female idols, have sex before we were emotionally ready, or even inhale. So I didn't.

In college, I hopped from group to group. Frat boys, Christian fellowship fellows with short hair, and the college rock band guys with the long hair, with whom I shared a fraternity home one summer (not as suggestive as it might sound). The drummer had a gorgeous, skinny blonde girlfriend -- I would have given a lot to be Kate. If if hadn't been for the artist who hopped out from behind trees to photograph me, it would have been even more of a romantic wasteland than it was.

The only young man I really liked had a big time jones for, you guessed it, a pretty blonde a few years his junior.

I suppose a lot of us females remember times when we felt too exotic...translate unattractive... to fit in. The guy at grad school who preferred women with "All American looks". The friend who was a sweet guy magnet (you know who you are) and from whom I learned a lot -- but didn't get to try out for myself. Walks down the hill in Princeton to the WaWa for licorice and cookies on Saturday nights when my BFF's were out eating, dancing, and kissing guys.

It took me until my forties to like the face in the mirror -- how about you? If you aren't there yet, start working on it. You are never going to look like "him" or "her" -- but you are pretty darned lovely just the way you are.

dimanche, novembre 15, 2009

King of Night Vision

I don't change my MP3 mix as often as I should -- and even when I do, I tend to keep some old faves on there.

One of these is the Indigo Girl's chestnut "Galileo" a song I continue to find delightfully quirky and fun.

Saturday I was on the elliptical machine at the Y, wishing I was outside in the park. Man, I hate to exercise indoors. Back problems -- attitude problems.

Somewhere after Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call" and "A Little of Your Time" the Girls start declaiming: "Galileo's head was on the block/crime was looking up the truth."

Black and white. Polar opposites. Pick one. That tends to be the way we humans seem to like to see reality. Only, as I raved a few posts ago, truth rarely is a single-celled organism.

Take our old pal, Galileo. His head was never "on the block" for "looking up the truth." Here's part of what the NASA writer on Galileo has to say about the trial:

"Galileo's quick wit, which he often used to ridicule his opponents, earned him a number of enemies. In 1613, Galileo wrote a letter in which he tried to show that the Copernican theory was consistent with both Catholic doctrine and proper Biblical interpretation. Some of his enemies sent a copy of this letter to the inquisitors in Rome, who sought out and punished heretics -- people who opposed church teachings. In early 1616, Galileo was summoned to Rome for a determination on the orthodoxy of his views. Although he was cleared of charges of heresy, he was ordered not "to hold or defend" the Copernican theory. That is, he could treat the theory hypothetically but not treat it as if it were true.
In 1632, Galileo published his first scientific masterpiece, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In this work, he compared the Ptolemaic-Aristotelian theory to the Copernican theory to show that the Copernican system was logically superior. Once again Galileo was summoned to Rome, this time to answer to the charge of willfully disobeying the order not "to hold or defend" Copernicus' theory. In 1633, the Inquisition found Galileo guilty of the charge, forced him to recant (publicly withdraw his statement), and sentenced him to life imprisonment."

Apparently Pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism, and not to advocate for either view.

As other writers on the subject point out, while the Catholic Church never formally (ex cathedra) condemned heliocentrism, they did hold it to be contrary to the plain sense of Holy Scripture. Or did they? That's not quite clear either.

Of course, Aristostle was wrapped up in this whole story. The church had relied on his philosophy to defend its worldview for hundreds of years. A challenge to the Greek philosopher was a challenge to one of the foundations of Catholic theology.

And, as I found out when I saw the Galileo exhibit in Philly last summer, Galileo didn't have the instruments he needed to prove his point. His contemporary, Kepler, and others moved the ball considerably forward.

In modern times, in this secular era, the role of the church is filled by other scientists, who sometimes hoot and boo those with whom they might disagree right out of the establishment. In the sciences you are free to go where the evidence takes you -- sometimes, and if you have a modern benefactor funding your research. Unfettered inquiry is a myth.

Eventually, the Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the publication of Galileo's heliocentric views. More recently, a prominent RC clergyman actually said that the controversy should be a "teachable moment" for both church and science.

I think what troubles me the most is the way we like to pit ourselves against each other -- as though either or all sides had the truth gripped between their steely jaws. Time will humble, if we allow it.

What makes you, or you, or you -- so sure?