Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is This Trip Really Necessary?

My old school friend the minister is going on sabbatical. Here's how he explained it on Facebook:
It is a time of renewal where a pastor is allowed to step away from the responsibilities of leadership - so his or her soul can reconnect with God. It is a time for travel...for just hanging around...for finding joy.
Well, good for him; I'm about to go on a semi-working vacation myself. But I was struck by his inflationary and obfuscatory rhetoric, making his time off seem like it's more significant on a cosmic level than the time off of his congregation, to say nothing of those of us who don't have Jesus' number in our iPhone. He's going to spend a little Quality Time with God -- no doubt exchanging high fives and chest bumps, maybe even punching each other in the arm and wrestling each other to the ground, because that's the way guys show their love for each other. The rest of us will go to our time-shares in the Smokies or camp out in the Hoosier National Forest, while I will be attending the next Queer Culture Festival in Seoul. Of course, that is a highly spiritual experience in itself.

I realize of course, that the overheated rhetoric and inflated sense of one's status in the cosmos go with the job. Or do they? Should they? I remember noticing, when I read Francine du Plessix-Gray's portrait of the Berrigan Brothers in her book Divine Disobedience, that the alternative seemed to be a self-conscious use of painfully outdated slang by clergy, but that too is a symptom of a clerical cult of personality: I could be all hoity-toity, but instead I'm the fighting young priest who's not afraid to talk to the young in their own language. Either way it seems at odds not only with the doctrine of Original Sin, but with the whole Protestant tradition of the priesthood of all believers. The word "minister" originally meant "servant," and I think it's telling that it has come to mean someone who is above others in the spiritual hierarchy, not under them.

Here's another of my old friend's status messages:
Great meeting with our Staff Parish Relations Committee last night. God is doing cool things among our people and leaders as I prepare to exit July-September for my Lilly-sponsored sabbatical. People looking at what we do and how we lead, work together, and asking, "Is there a better way?" Good stuff...lots of joy...God has cool people here ...!
The whole self-importance thing is hard to separate from Christianity: when your sacred book assures you that the saints (e.g., humble little you) will judge the angels, that a place in Heaven has been prepared just for little old you, that indeed the universe was created as a stage for the drama of salvation that culminates in you you you -- well, then it's not surprising that congregations believe that the Holy Spirit is sitting in on their staff meetings, guiding them, working through them, lifting them up. Or that athletes pray before games. The trouble with that is not that a god whose eye is on the sparrow isn't watching -- what better way to spend his day of rest than to kick back in front of his big-screen TV and take in a football game? -- but that the other team either wasn't praying, or that their prayers weren't worth listening to. I guess it's better to lose a game than to burn in Hell for eternity, but still.