On the one hand, having the hell scared out of me might be a very good thing. I’ve spent far too many years believing how God can’t stand to even look at me unless I have an eternal understanding of my original sin and repent of said sin. I’ve wasted a lot of time believing I made Jesus sad. Getting rid of the baggage for fear of wasting more of my God-given life, breath, intimacy & relationship is terrifying.
But I’m belabouring the pun.
As I sit here staring at another pathetic biblical Greek quiz (which I managed to get a whopping “0” on), I keep asking myself: “Is this really what I want to do? Am I really called to this vocation?”
I’d like to pin my fear on my loathing of Greek — and all language learning that stymies me ceaselessly — but I can’t. It’s not the iota or the omicron or the rho that’s throwing up walls.
I’m terrified of becoming a pastor because of parishioners just like me.
I was raised to know and understand Scripture; I went to a bible college that was devoted to a staunch defence of the bible, rendering other arguments un-winnable; I was taught that the truth was singular, hyper-focused, & always, always, always clear.
Apply this experience to someone like me — someone with almost unending questions, artistic, creative curiosity, and logical analysis — and it’s like a Frankenstein’s monster of theology is suddenly terrorizing the villagers.
“I don’t agree with that!”
“That’s not true, because…!”
“You can’t preach that!”
“You HAVE TO preach that!”
I can nitpick with the best of them; if I sense that something isn’t ‘biblical’ enough for me, I get my nose right out of joint; I can criticize better and far more accurately than the high and haughty Rachel Lynde, despite Anne Shirley’s protests; I can be sincerely smug, not really speaking my criticisms but deep down believing how right I am over the preacher, teacher, counselor; and I can be sweetly verbal in my criticism (only here I would say I’m genuinely trying to be kind in my criticism, but since I’m deathly phobic of confrontation, my words usually vomit out with a whiff of bile).
I’m also impatient, extremely resistant to change(s), bored with small talk, and truly, truly confused as to why songs like “He Has Made Me Glad” is still considered new or a ‘classic’ (for real?!!?).
Yes, I am THAT parishioner.
I question; I push buttons; I get frustrated at endless board or council meetings that talk and talk and talk, but really get nowhere (in my mind); I have a spiritual gift for seeing the many divisions between the church and community, & express disbelief when others don’t want to engage said community for community’s sake.
Nothing’s ever passionate enough, perfect enough, or ideal enough.
But God said to pursue the greater gifts…
And here I am putting myself squarely in the line of fire of people like me. For all of my faults, I am incredibly sensitive — small changes to the emotional environment in the room can set my anxiety soaring. The only way I’ve been able to successfully live through verbal attacks from other people is to drain all emotion away, and become almost catatonic until the ordeal is over with. It’s like an internal bunker system: able to see and hear all of what’s happening around me, but temporarily secure from the barbs being flung.
I wouldn’t say it’s the healthiest way of coping in difficult situations, but it certainly isn’t the unhealthiest.
The thought of meeting people like me once I’m in formal ministry is certainly bunker-worthy. Being a minister, cleric, or spiritual leader contains a disproportionate potential for burnout and mental illness. And I’m walking straight into the lions’ den.
And I ain’t no Daniel.
If anything, these past few years under the guidance of a gentle (and endlessly patient) pastor, and this past year in seminary have helped temper my passions. I can be argumentative and curious without feeling like my entire faith is being put on the line. I can have robust discussions with people holding other viewpoints and see their perspectives, appreciate them, and hold the utmost respect for them.
I am far from perfect.
There are still personal and communal hot-button issues that can send me from placid calm to raging hurricane in a nanosecond. But usually a fast from social media helps me release some of that reactive energy and channels it towards peace and perspective.
I was taught that Christians had to prove THE truth at all costs because people’s eternal lives depended on it. Having been released from a lot of those…hmmmm… sloppy-but-damaging (?) theologies, I now have the freedom to seek Christ in all things and in all places. But old habits die hard.
And very, very slowly.
If the truth I hold is not THE truth, what good is it? How does it glorify God? How does it draw people towards God?
I never want to be an apologist. I never sensed I was one. But after encountering Christians who lived lives entirely different from my personal experiences, I began to be challenged not only in my theology, but in my approach to other people in sharing that theology. I began to see that many evangelical traditions had rather different notions about what the gospel was in contrast to mainline traditions.
It hasn’t been an easy transition. But it’s been a necessary one.
My prayer is that I will be able to have sincere compassion with those who reflect…me. I pray that the part of me who has been, and can be, a dragon in her devout commitment to truth and justice and peace and love, can redirect the fire hell-bent on crushing all opposition, and use to fuel my compassion and understanding for others around me.