Friday, May 22, 2009

The highs are heavenly, the lows are hellish (UPDATED)

THE HIGH: The Reverend Dr. Leander Harding preached a beautiful sermon for a priest's ordination in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago. Here's just a bit,

But, the personal God is not content that the sacrifice of his Son–that what he has done by the pouring out of his life to bring men and women back to their Father, to make them again clean and holy, and to give them a witness in the world which shall cause the rest of God’s alienated children to come home–the personal God is not content that that should be a story that’s in a book somewhere. The personal God wants that sacrifice to become real; he wants it to become personal; he wants it to become something that people can see, and they can touch, that is put in front of people in such a way that they can respond to it, that their hearts can be broken and made warm and that they can be reconciled to their Father and give their lives anew to God in Christ and receive the power of the Holy Spirit and be witnesses in his Name to the ends of the earth. And so, God calls, the Lord calls in his church. You know, he comes to his church with the marks of the crucifixion upon him, this crucified and risen one, and he breathes into his church, he breathes into them. He says, “My peace I give you; as the Father sent me, so I send you.” And so, what the Lord wants is he wants in this time and in this place, this person to come and give himself so that the sacrifice of his Son might be re-presented in front of his people in such a way as it is real for them and provokes their response. That’s what the ordained priesthood is all about.

THE LOW: A heart rending, stomach churning investigative report from Houston. (Warning: the story contains graphic language and descriptions). In part,

Haslanger flew home, figuring he'd explained fairly well why he was a never-giver. He didn't expect to hear from the school again.

But, of course, he did, about two years later. And this was the letter that sent him over the edge. This was the letter that would disturb him so much that he took a leave of absence from his six-figure job as chief operating officer of a manufacturing company, which wound up being a permanent leave. This was the letter that unraveled all the effort that had gone into kicking self-medication with drugs and drink, and wiped away all the help he had received in therapy: The school wanted Haslanger to contribute to a new scholarship in the Reverend Jim Tucker's name.

Before he started spiraling, Haslanger wrote letters to St. Stephen's and to the
Episcopal Diocese of Texas, here in Houston.

"I wrote them a letter, and I said, 'That's a big mistake. You guys are going to get bit in the ass for starting a scholarship in Jim Tucker's name,'" Haslanger says.

This warning was summarily ignored. A single accusation of child molestation was not going to gum up the gears of the fund-raising machine.

But about ten years later, another accusation surfaced. And another. And then another, this one from the Episcopal church and school in Houston where Tucker worked after St. Stephen's.

A medical doctor who was part of the Commission on Ministry that interviewed me for ordination back in the 80s said, "I have a job in which I can tell people, 'Take of your clothes' and they do it, no questions asked." He was giving me a good insight into one dynamic of abuse: some of us hold positions to which people extend a great measure of trust.
In the case of clergy, heavenly highs come when we respond to that trust like Christ the Good Shepherd, guiding people toward the "green pastures and still waters" they need, willing to "lay down our lives for the sheep" by putting our own needs aside.
We fall into low pits of hell when we manipulate the people's trust and become predatory, using them up to satisfy our own needs.
Over twenty years of ministry, I've noticed that I can bless people beyond measure when I'm not even trying, and wound people incalculably with what I think are the best of intentions.
Dr. Harding and many others get to the heart of the matter: clergy must become so transparent that our own egos, needs and agendas disappear and only Christ shows through for the people.
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. (Paul, 2nd Letter to Corinth 4:5)

UPDATE: A moving and relevant post at The Lobster Pot. Good to have Rick Lobs blogging after a hiatus.


Alice C. Linsley said...

That's why I pay for my clergy friends almost daily. May God give you great wisdom, discernment, and strength, Father.

TLF+ said...

Alice - thank you so much and I cannot stress the importance of lay people who intercede for clergy.

I think it vital that every church have some members dedicated to praying for its clergy. I know that I have been helped in ways known and unknown by the diligence of intercessors over the years.