my occasional musings on life, love, art, perfume ... what else is there?

6.24.2005

Wherefore, Pastor?

As I meander along my blogreading route, I periodically come upon posts or comments that are so incredibly self-righteous, that make such rigid pronouncements, that set my teeth on such edge ... that, without knowing biographical data, I know I've found myself reading something from someone who has a degree in divinity, is pursuing a degree in divinity, or sure wishes they had a degree in divinity. Oh hell, skip the degree; what they really want is god-status.

Some of you may have picked up that I am a Jew by conversion. Prior to my conversion, to prepare for standing before a Beth Din (rabbinical court), I studied for two years with a Reform (which is the rather more liberal arm of Judaism) rabbi because this is the faith that has always made the most sense to my heart.

The halakha (Jewish law, custom and tradition) is appealing to me for its reason, its humility, its assertion of human responsibility, its insistence that there is One G-d (this spelling used out of respect for any Jewish readers).

But I lived my childhood in another faith, part of it the stepdaughter of a Christian minister. One of the most arrogant, hypocritical, cruel and self-centered individuals I have ever known in my life. I directly place the death of my parents' marriage at his feet, I know how unhappy my mother was in her marriage to this man and I am uncomfortably aware how many people were attracted to (read: fell for) his floridly emotional, slap 'em on the back, hail fellow-well met ministry.

I choose not to air any more family laundry in this venue ... this much linen serves merely as a bottom sheet for my real question:

How can a human presume to speak for G-d ? How can a human presume to know what is unequivocally right and place themselves in judgement of others? How can a human absolutely know the way and the truth in their intepretation and/or application of scripture? And why would anyone seek to appropriate that particular type of power over other susceptible humans?

Absolutely there are good ministers. I saw them doing outreach in the Chicago innercity. I met them in college-oriented church groups. I have worked with them as hospital chaplains. And corresponded with a military chaplain. And I have been grateful for, if always mistrustful of, their counsel.

Because I couldn't stop asking the question: why do you do this work? What is there about you that made you choose this? Are your motives clean?

Because I am afraid of the type of person who chooses this work.

Teacher I understand, and respect. A pastor is different from a teacher. Look at the word pastor: [from Wikipedia] "Pastor comes from the Greek word "poimen" meaning shepherd ... in a modern context, the term is often used to denote one who gives spiritual guidance and counsel ..." There is often an assumption of special status in taking on that role. A delineation of "there is me and then there is thee."

To those who choose this, who believe they have a vocation, a calling, who lust for the pulpit or bimah, مَذْبَحُ or altar, I can't stop asking: what makes you think you are special?

How dare you take on the god-like status of one who guides others' spirituality -- not through reference to, and well-intentioned discussion of, an established coda but through personality and inflicting your thoughts and will on others? What kind of ego fosters the idea that you are equipped to tell others what is right and wrong for them? Is your life so flawless?

Although I managed to make a choice for religion and am at ease with it, I still question any person or would-be person of the cloth, whether Protestant, Jewish, Catholic or Muslim: why do you want this power? What is your intention? What makes you worthy? Does your own behavior withstand scrutiny?

Why should what you think matter to me, or anyone else?

Today's fragrance: Isabey Gardenia. Notes: tangerine bark, ylang-ylang, orange flowers, gardenia extract, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, iris, musk, ambergris, sandalwood. It really IS all that.

17 Comments:

Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

You raise some complicated questions with no easy answers, my dear.

But the questions themselves contain the answers, or the keys for your own self and soul to grow, learn and inspire.

5:41 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are questions useful to anyone considering friendship, marriage or parenthood.

It sort of hurts.

It hurts to understand we just aren't as cool or together or as intelligent as we like to think we are.

I suppose I refuse to lump any certain group of humans into a good or bad heap. The fact that they are humans means they will never measure up to my standards, frankly, because they are not perfect and they are not God.

I think that's my "non-clerical and not a seminary student" point of little importance.

~clearing

7:22 AM

 
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Micki, I had to print this off and go ponder it before responding. I was raised as a Catholic and made a conscious choice to leave that faith at 15 (admidst great upheaval and a many family recriminations). Your post has incited a maelstrom of feelings in me. Faith is still very important to me.

... But, to address your question. I think there is a perspective missing here that might give some insight...that of utter humility. I think that you yourself have recognized it and revered it in your post about Joan of Arc. I have to dash off to meeting right now but will come back. This topic greatly interests me (don't tell my Mother, who still thinks I gave up on all things religious 30 years ago!) :-)

7:57 AM

 
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:57 AM

 
Blogger Zetirix said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:58 AM

 
Blogger Zetirix said...

I had a long ol' comment, but it didn't make sense... so I'll just ask... as an Atheist, what's all the fighting for? People give their lives for what they think, be it wrong in others' eyes or not. To me religions of most faiths are wrong, simply because of the abuses thereof.

- Z

9:00 AM

 
Anonymous Laura said...

Dear M, I have known many humble and loving clergy in my life, who've chosen their vocation because they felt it WAS a vocation, a call to a life devoted to the spiritual and to the sacred and to ministering to others. I have known superficial and supercilious clergy, too, and arrogant ones. I don't agree that the choice of this vocation is by defintion a grab or lust after power. No one can really know what is in the heart of another, or what motivates another to choose any career, or what another's relationship is to the divine (if there is such a thing).[Of course, I lambast some of a different political persuasion (the current administration, for example)than mine and think nothing of it, so see what a hypocrite I am ;D!] I've read what you wrote hurriedly and written this in a hurry, too, so please forgive mispercetions if there are some-- and my clumsy writing, which is so unlike your graceful style.

10:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Power, prestige and money. Those are the things that motivate a human to do evil and to be evil...or in the case of the comment above, by "the devil" ..oh never mind..

There are a lot of power hungry men and women using religion (and blogs) as a way to be the jerks they are.

I'm just very sorry for your experiences...I've had them too.

You are so loved.

~clearing

10:48 AM

 
Anonymous Victoria said...

Thank you for this reflective post, M. I have wondered about this often, although I do not think that I have reached any conclusions. My own religious background is a kaleidoscope, to say the least. I grew up as a young Soviet pioneer, who in the early 1990s got interested in the Christian scriptures for its beautiful prose (read Song of Songs and tell me if it is not breathtakingly beautiful). I started going to Orthodox church and I still consider myself an Orthodox Christian. However, I am much more of a secular relativist, to be honest. I have read Buddhist texts, Koran, Gita, and I find them all inspirational and insightful. My favourite quote comes from Islamic tradition, "Verily God is beautiful and loves beauty." I see divine presence in beautiful things (by which I mean much more than outward content and material elements).

To return back to your question of why someone would want to become a spiritual leader and why do they think that they are special. I can think of many ulterior motives, but I also believe in the desire to help and to offer oneself to God and to people. The purity of the motive is what makes pastor a true one. I am sure that it does not answer your question, but sometimes I feel that it is much easier to feel than to explain in logical terms.

10:52 AM

 
Blogger katiedid said...

I didn't know that about you M, or at least I didn't remember that. If there's anything that's particularly cool about the internet, it's that it allows us to engage with people who come from far more varied backgrounds than those we might otherwise know.

I'm a godless heathen, but I've known many people who've chosen to become preachers. One in particular was a woman who's a Unitarian pastor, and she impressed me greatly as a human being. I always felt she'd become a clergy member because she wanted to take an *active* part in helping others. And she did. She led her congregation (and in fact spearhead the movement) to fight against a particularly odious Jim Crow-like anti-gay measure that was stuck onto our city's ballot. This is how I came to know her. And then she opened up her church basement to provide winter housing, food, and clothing for migrant workers who could not affod these things once the growing season was over. Honestly, she single-handedly changed my perspective on what religion could mean for living. Not that all preachers are like this, of course.

And I do realize the word "preacher" can be offensive to some folks, but this is the word I grew up with in the Midwest attending a small Methodist church.

11:28 AM

 
Blogger Atreau said...

Great questions M! I was raised in a Christian household, we attended a Catholic church but didn't follow the rules of that church.

For years my Aunt tried to save our souls because while we were Christian, we still weren't saved in her eyes. When I was in middle school my Mom became deeply involved in a Evangelical church further pushing religion even harder on us. We became a very "Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family" type of household.

I fought it hard and refused to give into give in. My parents proposed that I attend until I was 15 - enough time for my sister to finish up her religious studies in the church.

I've studied other religions and while I respect and honor all of them. There isn't a religion that works for me.

I don't know of others motives but I know my own - to be the best person I can be. I walk comfortable with the person I am.

1:10 PM

 
Blogger Tan Lucy Pez said...

Good topic, good treatment of the topic.

I'm a Unitarian. Most of our ministers don't feel that they are special. They don't tell us how to think or feel. They give "talks," not sermons, on a lot of different subjects.

I was raised as Christian. Those ministers scared me. They did tell you what to think, feel, etc. Big egos. Maybe EGO is the answer, if there is an answer.

2:40 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought about this all day yesterday. Today I want to say a little more.

I've known many pastors. I don't know, perhaps more than thirty. I know of and about others (true pastors...not wolves) from books. I can only think of one who was not really a good man. I took all day thinking about it.

People love to be angry though and their pastors, like parents, often end up being the abused.

They are only people. Most of them are pastors because they love people, not because they are awful control & abuse perpetrators.

The subject of the horrible step-father has not that much to do with pastors, but everything to do with horrid people. I'm very sorry these things happened to you. They should not have been.

~clearing

5:40 AM

 
Blogger AP3 said...

Well, I went to seminary, but I didn't pursue ordination. Some clergy on one power trips, but not all. I think most of them have pretty sincere intentions, actually, but maybe I mostly know the cool ones. That's very possible.

7:46 PM

 
Blogger Kate said...

Pople are crazy, that's why. We're all a little crazy.

9:33 PM

 
Anonymous neko said...

My answer- no one is. And that, in a nut shell, is why I chose to leave the church.

7:48 PM

 
Blogger Kate said...

Oh Micki, I did read this about your stepfather. I am a space-cadet! Please forgive. :-)

1:14 PM

 

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