Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Daring to speak a truth ...

I recently encountered the following quotation in some reading I was doing ...

The stereotype to which he is expected to conform is too familiar to merit elaboration outside of a few main features. He is expected to "preach a good sermon" reaffirming the moral sentiments of the community with sufficient oratorical ability to keep up attendance. He is expected to do a certain amount of "visiting," especially with his older female parishioners and those who are ill. His behaviour is expected to conform to ideal moral standards and, at the same time, he is expected to be congenial in his personal contacts. ... the criticism to which he is subject illustrates the difficulties of the minister's role. ...

Would it surprise you to learn those words were written OVER 60 years ago??

The surprise for me when I read these words didn't arise from the age of the quotation, but my surprise came from the visceral resonance of truth those words continue to have even 60 plus years since they were first penned in 1946.

The quotation comes from Rural Life written by P.James Giffen in 1946, and finally published by the University of Manitoba in 2004. The manuscript was found at the University, and the value of its examination of the Manitoba communities of Elgin, Carmen and Rossburn was immediately recognized.

Sadly though, many of the challenges bedevilling those community (two of which have withered to almost non-existence) remain relevant and frightfully current in other communities.

The quotation above was offered as an observation on the United and Anglican Ministers in the town of Elgin (about a 45 minute drive south of here). Giffen fleshed out the quotation by noting the perceived failings of the United Church minister.He shared the criticism offered by one woman who said she had stopped going to Church because his preaching was regarded as being to LEFT in its orientation.

I read this portion of Giffen the evening I read The Laughing Pastor's posting on Flapping Jaws and where they lead. In Blake's posting he began by noting that if enough people say something over and over it will come to be regarded as "TRUE", all evidence to the contrary clearly dismissed, ignored and over looked.

His words resonated within me. I have been struggling with the effect of an unrelenting stream of malicious gossip that has been told and retold so often that people have come to regard the "stories" as true. In this they have consistently ignored and overlooked the real truth. So pernicious has this been that it has radically altered people's view of reality and coloured their view of me and others.

There was little heed paid to the fact that this repugnant behaviour affect not just me (the intended target) but others including my children and other innocent bystanders. I could almost hear the anonymous woman cited by Giffen's flapping her jaws all over town sharing her "true" stories about the minister she had dubbed wanting because his preaching on putting people over profits pushed her into a place of discomfort. She lived a truism wherein it is always easier to slay the messenger, then to heed the message, particularly when that message puts us ill at ease.

Pastor Blake speaks a truth in his posting ... one that hit a bit too close to home for me ...

The perception that as Minister I had to be very much like the above quotation (I'm NOT - nor would I EVER want to be that insipid in my life or my ministry) caused many to find me wanting. I've balked from the beginning of expectations that are unreasonable and unrealistic. This quotation, written 60 years ago summarizes too accurately the very attitudes held by many within the church to this day. An attitude that is dated and unhelpful.

With the unreasonableness of this attitude comes a harsh judgment when clergy are found wanting. Then, rather than addressing the expectations as the source of short-coming rather than the clergy, the anger at the minister not behaving in an appropriate way leads people to engage in the very process Blake outlines ... As I've witnessed and lived it, a small chorus of voices repeats their hate filled words over and over until a cacophony of voices blithely repeat what has erroneously come to be regarded as the gospel truth.

Fortunately, there is only ONE Gospel Truth in the world, and as Gandhi noted, it is what we aptly call "The Divine".

Mere mortals will confess: "I know that it's true ..." and they will spout some half baked untruth that is prefaced by their own feelings of anger and a profound and debilitating sense of fear and powerlessness. Such behaviour has absolutely NO place in the Church, yet too often the Church offers the most fertile ground for such actions.

As Blake says over on his blog - we need to stop letting such behaviour bother us ... but more than that, we in the CHURCH MUST actively and faithfully work against such behaviour ... to fail in this is to fail in living our faith.

We teach our children to say -"stick and stones may hurt our bones, but words will NEVER hurt us ..." As one deeply and grievously wounded by the malicious words of others, I have long contended that words can inflict a hurt that is far deeper and far more insidious than getting whacked with a stick or a stone.

Our faith calls us to realistic expectations, faithful action and active resistance to all things that are hurtful to another person ... The first step in this journey begins by looking inwardly and seeking to live a life that embraces values of respect and love ... the next step is putting those values into action ...

Flapping Jaws are exclusive to a life of faith ... the two DO NOT belong together - EVER !!!

The sooner we realize it, the better the Church, our communities and OUR world will be.

May it be so ... and may it be so quickly ...

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