The new year rolled in for me in a far different way than I had expected. A general blog posting is not the environment to go into detail. It is a process I have been through over the course of about a month that has rather completely altered my "Sitz em leben" (seat or place in life...a phrase often used by biblical scholars to indicate the place one finds one's self in relationship to the experiences of divine and community). I am the same person known by most who may read this blog, but each person who knows me does so in a different way and within very different contexts. Suffice it to say, that I have engaged metanoia in a way that, at the other end of the process, I have been significantly turned within my core being.
Being a priest and theologian means that I have known such terms and experiences as aspects of the intellectual and ontological processes that make the disciplines of my vocation and resulting craft. What brought me into this vocation was a series of profound experiences that reshaped my entire way of seeing the unfolding of my life. I was 20 years old when the systematic dismantling of what I firmly believed was my "life plan" began. By the time I entered seminary in the middle of my 24th year, who I was had become quite distinct from who I had been. That's the nature of vocation. Vocation (vocare) is not the province of ordained life. Vocation is the expression of True Self and the engagement of resources that are part of each person's fundamental character. Someone avowing atheism may well call this "snake oil" philosophy. Fine. My rejoinder would be that such a person lives life largely devoid of anything beyond the confines of the left frontal lobe of the brain. If you insist, by all means remain there. I didn't. (subnote: I am not even mentioning "agnostics" here. This isn't a philosophical treatise. and I generally refuse to flatten the multi-dimensional elements of interior life journey and its resultant exterior interactions).
I discovered that a person can be an asshole and a good priest ... literally at the same moment of time. What happens ontologically (one's fundamental character...True Self...soul) at ordination equips one to be a sacramental vessel. It's a permanent alteration...I am a priest forever. The Church calls it (along with many other sacraments) and indelible rescripting of one's being. While I can't "unpriest" myself, I can choose to express my vocation through any number of garden variety neuroses that inhabit every single human ever born and ever to be born into this life. My neuroses was a particularly intense but illusive self-hatred.
Self-hatred is predicated on any number of experiences that are internalized and used to define self worth. It is based on fear...usually a fear of failure or a fear of being able to "measure up" to the standards of others. There is the great myth that folks "out there" know more about who and what a person should be than the person him/her-self knows from within. The resulting disconnect from the stabilizing forces of the True Self launches a rickety craft on the internal seas of perceived reality. What comes to manifestation in such a morass is a projection of anger, perfectionism, and a host of totally unrealistic expectations for those living in the environment with said person. Parish ministry can be a wickedly cruel environment. The painful thing is, the Person of Christ...in the Christian community...has nothing to do with the expression of many of the communities using his name on the building signs. I internalized a lot of that pain, and I regurgitated it in the form that I call "emotional terrorism."
I waited until it was almost too late to do something about what was a twisted left brain ego neurosis. It surely would have alienated me totally from my family. I would have become a burned out cynic...ultimately embracing my own definition of atheism. I would have probably died before I retired simply because the body is not equipped for that level of stress and pain.
Don't despair here. I have been considered by colleagues and most of my parishioners over the years as a "good priest"... effective and professional in my craft. The Holy Spirit utilizes us in spite of our neuroses. That's why I could be a priest and an asshole all in the same day...and selective in who saw what aspect of my total being. It's usually the people who love you the most that see the worst part. It is where we allow ourselves to be most vulnerable.
The decade of the 1990s was the worst for me. It stretched into the early 2000s. I spent five days at Baylor Psychiatric Clinic in Houston, TX moving through every kind of evaluative tool available. I learned, through that process of being dismantled and reassembled, that I am, indeed, a good priest...a priest with neuroses (as distinct from psychoses) that can be re-wired...with the help of medication and ongoing psychological/spiritual direction to name, isolate and rescript what the left brain, ego system and unrealistic expectations had so effectively twisted away from functional reality. Effexor XR and I became a working team in late 2004. My team of a psychotherapist and spiritual director guided me in rewiring my entire system of self-identity....teaching me to love myself as a fundamental element of being. I will forever be thankful beyond words to Father Ed Whalen...priest and Jungian trained counselor...who was literally a "midwife" for my emotional/mental rebirth.
Along the way, and as a result of my therapeutic journey, my vocational skills opened up more broadly, and I was able to take better stands where it counted. It is when I was able to own the fact that I don't have to be what others want me to be. The flagship moment for me was being able to stand in front of my congregation after General Convention in 2009 and state my full support for the inclusion of LGBT persons in the full life of the Church and support for the blessing of authentic LGBT life-long partnerships. It was also when I allowed myself to move beyond the confines of structured Christian community and explore what others were experiencing as authentic spirituality and relationships with a Loving God. I tell you this even weeping: There are many, many folks outside the institutional Church whose love of God and resulting love of others make the Church look like a narcissistic country club. Frankly, it is one reason I retired early, and the narcissistic element of the Church community that helped "seal the deal."
As a result of the reframing and rebalancing that has allowed my True Self to emerge to center in my interiority and the ego take on a supportive role (rather than central), I have been able to come off the medicinal support provided by Effexor XR. What a journey!
In this, my second year of retirement, I am happily assisting (as a supply priest) in a local parish that Denise and I call "home." Yes, it has all the marks of what the Church has become in this age. However, it shows signs of hope in the way they have loved and accepted us, others and one another
as part of the faith community. That is balanced with regular interaction with loving people of faith outside the Christian community...where I see clearly the love and tenderness of God shaping and embracing lives of truly good people. The Oneness Community is such a group. It isn't a religion or a philosophy but a lived expression of Divine Love incarnated in a vast array of faith traditions.
I am no longer who I was. I am becoming the person I truly am....created in the image of God for whom Loving self is central and loving others is the natural outpouring of that Divinely gifted love to others. For those whose sense of reality must say, "but, is Jesus your Lord." Oh, for Pete's Sake!!! Yes, of course he is. He's never abandoned me. I ignored him in my pain. I have a renewed relationship. But don't expect it to meet your standards. I don't play in that ballpark any longer.
Here's 2013 for me, as it now begins to unfold:
1. Forget the definitions you have learned about what a terrorist is. That definition describes a psychosis environment. But,
2. You might be a terrorist (neurosis), if you believe that your experience is the defining principle that everyone else should follow...the result is that you spend an inordnant amount of time manipulating people to see things your way.
3. You might be a terrorist, if you reject as insignificant anyone who is of a different faith tradition or ideological orientation...resulting in active judgementalism or sabotage of their "Sitz im leben." (this includes telling people they are going to hell because they don't buy your brand of salvation. That's God's work anyway, and I don't recall any place where we have been given that role).
4. You might be a terrorist if you internalize self-hatred and then blame the world around you for "screwing up" your life. This will be manifested most often in making life hell for family, friends and colleagues.
5. You might be a terrorist if you use position, wealth or political influence to manipulate the lives of others. Buying, selling or threatening others (sometimes call "influence peddling") via power is as bad as planning and carrying out a physical jihad. It works to destroy the character and integrity of good, well-meaning people.
I am officially out of that game...by choice and action. There is a much better way to be fully human, fully alive and fully invested in the world. I will speak my truth, but it will be a truth spoken in love.
Oh, and for Facebook friends: if you enjoy passing along those posts that say something like: If you believe the ass should fall of the universe, press "like." If you don't care, scroll on. Those things are such a crock! I will only "like" things that truly reflect the dignity and integrity of every human being. For the record: I cannot tolerate abuse of any kind...to human or animal. I served my country with distinction in the U.S. Navy. I don't need to prove my loyalty to country or flag by pressing "like" on some misguided wag's idea of patriotism....usually never having been in harm's way themselves. Give it a rest. That stuff is its own brand of terrorism. "Come on folks...think like me and legitimize my own anxiety and fear." Uh, no.
I sincerely love folks...and you know who you are: family, colleagues, FB friends and people who have prayed for, supported, and encouraged me. I'm there for you as well! Trust me on this.