Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In it with them

My politically-inclined nephew asked me a question last night. Not surprisingly, we were talking about the democratic presidential candidates, and how the media helps shape, as it often does, what we feel about them. I read a very good editorial about this the other day, about how the media has become the wall, rather than the fly on the wall. How instead of simply being the camera lens, media has now molded and changed what we see and know about candidates, what we believe to be true about them. And that led my nephew to say, "I've been wanting to ask you what you think about Obama and his pastor." I wasn't surprised by the question, certainly. This nephew of mine is an agnostic at best, and I'm probably the closest person to a pastor (though I'm not) that he knows, since I went to seminary and all. That indefinite 'and all' does get to me--someday I'd really like to know what all is contained in all. In any case, I'm certainly the most 'religious' person in his immediate world--a word I also have a whole lot of words about, and might post those someday...

So what I told my nephew, with whom I share so many common opinions, actually, that sometimes talking to him is like talking to myself, is that I thought, "Here we go." When I first heard the story about Rev. Wright, it felt and sounded undeniably familiar. That is, there have so often been these somethings, some ghost or other, that rise up and bite a candidate, that the media create mountains from. We've seen it a thousand times, really. Haven't we? And I thought this might be that mountain for this candidate I've liked since the convention when I first heard him open his mouth and take my breath away with his rhetoric.

But it also made me think of how we think of our pastors, whether that 'we' is within the church or not. We somehow think they belong to us, that we belong to them and what they say, how they say it, what they do, all of that, reflects on us, is ours to criticize, or embrace, right down to their attire, their families, etc. In short, we own our pastors. Isn't this true? We look at pastors in an entirely different way than any other profession in the entire world. And a different calling, too, that it isn't just one part of the lists from Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, and wherever else that I can't remember now. But guess what, we're in it with them. We're called to this thing called the Body of Christ with them, with our own gifts, with our own talents, to make the church be the church.

Unfortunately, most of the time, the pastor is the mouth of the Body. Now Obama's Rev. Wright, I think he was really the mouth of that church. And he opened it. Sometimes his tongue got away with him. But I bet there are lots of other times when it didn't. When it inspired, and was inspired, and I am certain-- certain-- there were times the Body around him filled up the gaps where he blew it. At least that's what I hope was true. I hope that this is true in churches where the preacher who's the mouth gets off track, and those who sit, open-mouthed, can hardly believe their truth-loving, Jesus-loving ears. I believe it. I believe those holy ones, who call on the Holy One, start standing in the gap right then and there in their seats, and working in the background, and God intervenes. God always steps in the way of the most misguided of mouths when we pray. Now I'm not saying this man should have said the things he did. By no means. That would be ridiculous. I know from completely personal experience what it is to find the words of preachers abhorrant. To hear them say things that I regard as heretical. Yes. Does this shock you? So why, you might ask, does a person stay in a church in that situation? Or allow a preacher to stay? People stay because the Body fills up the gaps, floods the broken places. Or prays to.

But sometimes the broken places are too shattered, too deep. I admit that too, I'm sorry to say, downright broken hearted to say, to tell you the truth. And it's still hard to leave. It should be. It should be the hardest thing we ever do--leaving a church, or getting rid of a pastor. Not done lightly or gladly because we are part of the Body of Christ. THE BODY OF CHRIST!!! As such, we belong for life. Bought with blood. In community. And we should bleed about leaving. But God knows all this too. He's in this blood too.

So I didn't find it odd that Obama loved a man he disagreed with. And I didn't find it hard to imagine how painful he found it to have to finally denounce that man with whom he'd broken bread, and by whom he'd been baptized, married, been ministered. It should have been hard. It should be hard for us. We don't own our pastors. Thank God. They belong to God. We're in this thing--this Kingdom life--together. Act accordingly.

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