Every pastor has the experience of making mistakes that are so damaging people leave the church. Or, if not that, of having an approach or a personality that simply offends or is off-putting and people leave. It is never easy; some experiences are more difficult than others. But it is always painful, at least for me. And not just because of how it makes me feel. It sucks knowing that a person who came to the church I serve or to me has been hurt, and that I have played a role in that; I don’t think I will ever stop feeling pain over that fact.
I get some are genuinely concerned or even offended by how I approach my life. The things I share. The way I run my FB page. The things I do for ministry. I certainly understand intellectually the content of their complaints. As St. Anselm of Canterbury writes in his famous ontological argument for the existence of God, even a fool can hold it in his understanding. I often am the fool. I understand that some people find my approach irresponsible and even dangerous. Those criticisms do not go unheard. And while it might not look like it, they often are heeded. But just not in enough of a way to win back those who have left.
Because to do so would be artificial. Like Anselm’s fool, just because I hold it in my understanding doesn’t mean that it exists. I have explained time and time again why I am so honest. I’m tired of defending myself for being transparent. And I always try not to be hurtful with my words; when I am, I think that I am good at apologizing for it and seriously addressing the behavior. To put it another way, I don’t think anyone could describe me as conniving or surreptitious. I’m pretty much an open book. I do that because of the darkness in me. Only light can drive it out. Uncomfortable honesty is my accountability.
I am so painfully honest because I am a skilled liar. I know what can happen when I don’t lay things bare.
I won’t apologize for it. Awhile ago, I wrote about how I think an experience I had years ago might have been a demon. I also wrote clearly that I know how crazy that can sound, but the experience left me knowing that even in my sleep I choose Christ. That experience has been part of my journey deeper into the gospel. I refuse to not write about stuff like that, full stop. Demonology has been part of our tradition for two thousand years, and I will write about anything and everything spiritual that strikes my fancy, because that’s what I do. I am a pastoral theologian. Don’t like it? Don’t read. Very simple.
It is a difficult position I find myself in. I am a pastor, but only hired to a specific congregation for 18 hours (and am thrilled to have the assignment; I love this church). However, that does not mitigate my responsibilities to act as a pastor at all times. I try to do that; I don’t think anyone would argue that I am not present at the church or in the lives of people who ask me to serve a spiritual role. I mess up, though. It happens. But being at 18 hours means that I don’t have health insurance. My other job, for which I am qualified partially because of educational loan debt, also does not offer insurance. Or benefits of any kind. So I am taking my call to social justice and helping launch a nonprofit with the financial goal of getting health insurance for not only myself, but three other Board members. The goal is that for many people associated with the Beloved Community Project of Yellow Springs to have, at the very least, monies that go toward helping them remain here in YS. I talk about that openly because it is a justice issue. If my being open about the need for health insurance is problematic–or by being honest about how I am trying to go about securing it for myself and others–then, well, I don’t think that is on me.
I am also a person living with bipolar disorder. I do not have a lot of money. I do not have endless resources. I go to therapy as I can; I take my meds religiously; I have accountability partners. But writing and FB is a big part of how I live, how I enable myself to exist in the world. My emotions are always on overdrive and overload. I’m intense, I get it. But I am not going to dim my bulb every time someone has to squint. I’m willing to shade it for the right reasons, but I decide that, not anyone else.
I get that people may not like how or what I write, and we can have those conversations. But the answer is not going to be me living a life that is inauthentic. I admit pretty regularly that I foul up, but you know what? “I’m sorry” is rarely, rarely said to me. Since I have become a pastor, I receive fewer apologies for affronts than I ever have in my life. I think it is because sometimes people think that they can spout off, that as a pastor I am supposed to be a paragon of patient listening and acceptance. Most often that is true, that is how I should function; but not all the time. I try to work out my feelings here in order to be able to hear criticisms and try not to be defensive when I’m in front of somebody. I fail at that, and I apologize for it. For heaven’s sake, though, I have to have something. Some place in which I can exist and be myself. And I don’t accept that I should just write and keep it to myself because I get messages every single day telling me how my writing has helped someone. That’s not ego, that’s fact. That’s simply acknowledging that hurting people need other hurting people in order to talk about and process their hurt.
For those in my physical community, please don’t try to connect any dots. While there is a specific situation going on right now, these words are inspired by but not aimed at that; I honestly pray that there can be genuine conversation and resolution of the situation in time. And I certainly don’t mean these words to be an impediment to that. But, see? I’m couching and trying to protect myself in this space. In the place that I need to be able to stride confidently. I will not be told I cannot write about my life, simply because others might be identifiable. I keep things general enough in order to be specific about myself. This is not about anybody but me; I am in a position in which I am criticized regularly and often publicly. And I take it. I listen. But I am also a human being and this is my little corner of the blogosphere. If you don’t like it, fine. But by blogging and using FB I am not breaking any requirements or regulations placed upon me by the PC (USA), the Presbytery of the Miami Valley, or the congregation I serve. I certainly don’t write here as a representative for those organizations, unless I specifically say otherwise.
I almost never say otherwise.
I hope this is the last blog like this I need to craft: I write as myself for people who wish to be here. I will hear any constructive criticism. If we have a conversation and you ever fear it will “end up in the blog,” tell me of those fears. I have the right to write about my life, not yours. I write to be honest, but never hurtful. Our real life relationship is more important to me than a good blog entry. In return, though, I ask that you also respect what it is this blog represents to me, what it is for me; that this space is where I come to use words to wrestle and grow. If the intention to get me to stop is just to make oneself comfortable regardless of what it does to me, I can no longer own that; I can no longer honor that; I can no longer accept that.
This blog is that than which nothing lesser Aaron can accept.