At the house where I'm dogsitting I found Barbara Brown Taylor's new book, Leaving the Church. I picked it up and couldn't put it down. I read most of it yesterday afternoon. Then funnily enough (and quite happily), a friend gave it to me this morning at church. What luck!
Being BBT's work, it is of course very well written and engaging. But I felt so sorry for her. Her description of the priesthood is very similar to what I've been experiencing this fall - long hours, lots of demand and expectations, the pressure to overgive of oneself. She also adds things I haven't yet experienced but I'm sure will: the need to appear perfect (no drinking or swearing or really having much fun at all), to put on a happy face no matter what, to put everyone else ahead of yourself. She talks about how she had to entirely quit the priesthood to discover the Sabbath, shared power in the priesthood of believers, even historical-critical Biblical interpretation (did this woman go to seminary?). She stopped being a priest and suddenly she was allowed to be a human being - to have her own emotions, to explore questions and other faith traditions, to freaking take a rest. She basically admits to never being authentic as a priest because she couldn't. She couldn't risk her parishioner's faith, so she pretty much held to whatever party line she thought she had to. Most centrally, she found that she could not be a person as a priest, she had to be a priest - the mouthpiece of God - and not show weakness or failure. For her, the only way to recover her humanity was to leave the church.
Wow. I mean, I feel so bad for her. If she only knew that most people my age and younger are never looking for perfection in our ministers. We want to know real people. We want someone to walk along the journey with us, to ask questions with us, not to always have the right answer ready. We want someone who laughs and swears and smokes a cigar now and then. My favorite priests, and the ones most effective in my spiritual walk, are the ones who have been real people like everybody else, who felt absolutely no need to put on a happy face or pretend to know all the answers.
And that is the kind of priest I would have to be, if I ever became one. I learned this fall that I haven't the energy to be the other kind. And I don't want to be. I have no interest in killing myself, in emptying my own humanity and spirituality for the sake of others. If I am not whole and human and if my own soul is not well-connected with God, how on earth could I possibly offer wholeness and humanity and soul-care to others? That's how I see it, anyway.
And I think my committee did too. They always called me on it when I started talking about how a priest is "supposed" to be and whether I fit it. Thank God for them.
It's funny. I write about my foibles and failures on here and tell them to my friends, and they tell me that it is that very openness about my own shortcomings that makes me a good person to counsel them or listen to them. You guys tell me all the time that my own struggles will be an asset to a life in ministry.
Yet I also hear the church - the larger Episcopal church - seeming to say that the things that appeal to you and to younger folks are the very things that will block me from priesthood. My unwillingness to work long hours and demand for a Sabbath and quiet time and personal formation. My depression and emotional rollercoaster rides. My shyness. My openness. Oh, that is a big one. You just can't be that honest, people tell me. I wonder why not. I'm supposed to try to be like God. Isn't God always honest? Even when it is impolite? I mean, check out today's gospel text. John the Baptist is not exactly mincing words.
But he's not God, of course, and he was obssessed with finding an apocalyptic savior who would bring about the end of the world. Which turned out to be really not Jesus' deal. I was struck today with the juxtaposition of John's speech in Luke 3 and Jesus' in Luke 6: both talk about sharing coats (John says give the extra one, Jesus says give the only one - plus your shirt), about finances (John says take only what you should and don't extort, Jesus says lend and don't expect repayment at all), and both say something about God. John says God's Messiah is coming to separate good people from bad and to burn up the bad. Jesus says his Father is merciful, and is forgiving and kind even to the wicked. John says clean up your act. Jesus does too, but he doesn't say that our actions are the final word. It's up to God in the end.
Anyway, I thought that was a neat comparison study. I will perhaps sermonize on it sometime. Meantime, I've gotten off track and I need to start packing for my VACATION!!!! Oh, I SO cannot wait. This time tomorrow, God and traffic willing, we'll be settling into a B&B room with a fireplace and spa tub (my 2 requirements). I'm so excited I could just pee my pants. I can't wait to get away with John and rest and be pampered a bit. Somebody else to do the dishes, you know! And make the bed and all that. Nice, nice, nice.
So I'll probably be away for a few days, but hopefully this is enough to chew on until I return. Blessings this end of Advent to you. The excitement is building: our King and Savior now draws near!
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I've been meaning to read that book myself... I love the title of your blog, friends of mine used to call me "The Feminarian" Thanks for your honesty; I hear ya.
I think your feeligns are right on! I share them as well as a young seminarian. I hope youare enjoying your vacation
Blessings on your vocation and sabbath time.
I haven't read the book; but, having heard your description, my reaction is to say don't panic. Granted, I'm not a parish priest, but I'm certainly in parishes almost every Sunday. I have long found that I couldn't meet that standard, either. However, I've also found that most folks didn't really want that. Oh, there are some; but if you're up front about your humanity, most folks are more comfortable. And, over the long run they're more likely to be up front with you about theirs. And when they want to deny yours, it's because they're afraid of their own.
Be yourself as God has called you to be. It will be more than enough; it will be right.
Hey, sorry for responding to this so late. I saw that this post was long but on an interesting topic, bookmarked it, and didn't come back until now.
Interesting thoughts on the sabbath and priesthood. I need to pick BBT's latest up. But I do think that the concept of sabbath is one that we need to recover, big time. Actually, once the Independent Catholic missal I'm working on is done, the next book project is probably a theological work exploring the connection between sabbath and the Eucharist in Independent Catholic ecclesiology. You're right to poke holes in any notion of the priesthood that crowds out a sabbath, because that's where our spiritual practice is supposed to be leading all of us! The Kingdom of God is not a desk-job, but playtime. ;-)
Many blessings on this Feast of the Nativity!
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