Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A hypocrite's oath

I think I've discovered the reason for my current funk. I am a hypocrite. And I do not want to preach again until I can do so with a clear conscience.

The loosest definition of a hypocrite is - a person whose actions do not line up with their words. It seems to me that is part of why I struggled so much with the recent sermon. It's not necessarily that I don't believe what I said, but I can't say for sure that I do, nor do my actions necessarily follow those I was encouraging others to take.

This seemed to make so much more sense in my head, but I don't think my hypocrisy has to do with my belief in God. It has more to do with NOT KNOWING what I believe about God. There are many things I WANT to believe; many things I HAVE believed; many things I would like to SAY I do believe... but to be perfectly honest... I'm just not sure at all what I believe anymore. Again, this is not to say I have lost my faith or do not believe in God... I have simply lost faith in what *I* know. And I don't feel comfortable preaching about things I'm not sure of. I doubt that anyone wants to hear someone preach their doubts.

Although, there is this great story Mike Yaconelli shared in his book "Messy Spirituality" (p.94-95):
"Years ago I heard an extraordinary story. I hope it’s true. The pastor of a church in England announced to his congregation one Sunday that he was resigning because he no longer believed in Christianity. Stunned at first, the congregation gathered its composure, and the elders asked the pastor to meet with the congregation after the service. Everyone knew what was going to happen. His resignation would be accepted, financial arrangements would be made, and the search for a new pastor would begin.
But that’s not what happened. The elders stood before the pastor and said, “Sir, we understand you have come to the painful conclusion that Christianity is not true. We believe it IS true. In fact, we’re so convinced it is true, we want you to stay on as our pastor. We want you to stand up each Sunday and preach your doubts to us. It’s okay. We want to hear them, not so we can argue with you but so this can be a place where you can honestly seek the truth.”
For three years, the pastor preached his doubts, and one morning he stood in the pulpit, looked out at the congregation with his eyes full of tears, and said, “I have found my faith again. Thank you for trusting the gospel; thank you for waiting for me to find my faith again!”
This pastor was stuck, burned out, lost, sinking in the quicksand of doubt, and his church recognized his stuckness! His congregation recognized that being stuck was a necessary stopping place where he could regroup, regain his strength, and move on. An extraordinary congregation of ordinary people understood their pastor’s need to wrestle with the truth. Instead of talking about truth, they TRUSTED the truth. They did not fear the waiting, nor did they fret over the “setbacks” they would have to endure when visitors came.
When the doubting pastor finally proclaimed his found-again faith, deep in his heart he must have whispered to God in gratitude, “Jesus has been hiding in these people all along.”"

I love that story. I, too, have no idea if it is true or not. I'd like to hope it is, but I doubt it. Anyway, it's one thing for a congregation to support their pastor in such a time, and another entirely for a wayward former pastor to do so in unsuspecting places. So, that's why today I am setting forth this oath to not preach again until I can truly believe what I am preaching, and preach it from a place of practice.

Part 2 -

This is what I think happened last week. I prepared the sermon, and I think I believed it when I was preparing it, but my week was such that I found myself acting in a way that totally belied the things I was saying. I just couldn't cope with work and even ended up having to take Friday off as a sort of "mental health day." I am aware there is an enemy at work who would like to freak me out about this, and maybe that's what it is, but I think there is more going on from the "good" side too.

Yesterday I started reading Henri Nouwen's great little book "Life of the Beloved." Right off the bat he talks of developing a friendship with a young reporter he recognized was completely miserable in his job. Nouwen writes, "He looked to me like a prisoner locked behind the bars of a society forcing him to work at something in which he didn't believe." OUCH!! I thought it crazily coincidental that I read that then.

I think a lot of my frustration - and it is MY frustration; no one else is to blame - comes from the fact that I have been laboring in a job I don't believe in. And it's not the work itself, but what I'm being asked to do (or maybe it's how I'm being asked to do it).

So, I feel like I am being hit from both sides. It may be that it's time to step out of the way. I don't know... but I do know that I don't like feeling like a hypocrite - whether it's preaching or renting storage units either one.