To Tell the Truth

A friend just sent me an eamil that I started a reply to from my email program until I realized that it was going to be a long, long email. This friend asked the question about how to preach when your heart is breaking. I'm thinking about this again as I condiser Isaiah 11:1-10 for this coming Sunday. How do you deliver the good news when your brother attempts suicide? How do you preach hope when the darkness of the world threatens your faith when a pimple appears on your breast? How do you tell the truth? Do you even dare? So, I'll tell you what I have learned in these past few weeks: You tell the fucking truth.

I'll say it again. You tell the fucking truth. You talk about scripture and how this is not new. People have been feeling exile, abandonment and loss of hope for centuries. You tell the truth of your own faith. For me, this is where my faith started. It started when things were broken. My mother had died. I asked big questions when others didn't want to ask them. I pushed and lamented and cried. This is what most of the people in our pews are doing anyhow. Give them the permission to do it aloud.

Tell them that you heart is breaking. Tell them that it hurts and you don't have answers but this is your church too. And as my colleague has said, ministry goes in circles. Let the circle envelop you so that you can feel that support, love and nurture.

I know that there are clergy who say that we need to hide these parts of ourselves so that we don’t bleed all over the congregation. I know there is a big risk there. Trust me, I know there is a risk there. But, damn it, this is what we are about. We are supposed to be vulnerable and humble and scared at what unexpected thing God has in store for us. Preach it. Talk about it Bible Study. Don't bottle it up. Or you will become like me -- and just blog about it.

I'm meeting this week with a member of my Pastor Parish Relations Committee to express this lament. I was told by one of those members of the clergy that I couldn't tell the truth. I couldn't share that my brother had just attempted his life. I couldn't talk about it at all. Because I didn't know the results and it would cause too much concern, I was told to keep it to myself. I have news for you. You would never tell anyone in your church to do this. You are a good pastor. You would never tell someone to hold back. You would encourage them to find a way that they could tell the truth -- in small ways perhaps. You would invite them to pray about it and think about how it could be heard. You would invite them to share because only in sharing can we grow. The question I will I ask the member of the Pastor Parish Relations Committee is not why couldn't I share, but what happens when we discern our ministry differently? This is a question really about the possible tensions between Senior and Associate Pastors. What happens when we disagree? However, this is not only a question for us. It is a question for our whole church. How do we hold each other together? How do we support each other when we disagree? How do we create a space of openness for everyone in our congregation to tell the truth?

When I was in seminary, I saw pastors share their heartache and I grimaced. Some people just don't want to see this in their pastors. And I gotta say -- I don't know how to be church for those people. I'm weak and human. Sometimes I'm confused and angry and heartbroken. Can I only share this with other clergy and friends? Ack! Now, I realize that what I witnessed was a victim mentality which truly doesn't help anyone. No one needs to see their pastor as a victim. The caretaker mode kicks in and what really gets lost is the opportunity for empowerment. And in my year of ministry (11 months of ordained ministry), I’m more and more convinced that this is what we are all about. We are about empowerment. We are trying to be so bold that we can turn to others after the sermon is over and tell the truth.

I just spoke with a member of our congregation today who experienced this when I preached part of my heartache two weeks ago. She turned around in her pew. She hugged someone she barely knew and they told their stories of loss. And today, she hugged me and thanked me for being so brave. This is what it is all about. We are supposed to be brave enough to tell the truth so that others can do the same. Tell them your heart is breaking. Do it with compassion, thought and love. Do it with tenderness and wisdom. Tell the truth because "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32, NRSV).


Anonymous said...

You are a good pastor. I'd love to hear your sermons.

Recently her podcast for a Mothers' Day sermon in which people in worship that day who were having a hard time with Mothers' Day - for whatever reason - were asked to stand where they were seated and then the person next to them were to hold their hand and offer a prayer for them. Now that is church. But many of us would hate it. We like to pretend all is well. (But that's not the kind of church I want.)

LittleMary said...

you're making me think pastor peters. it is a fine line. it is a hard thing. it is a confusing thing for me.

ymp said...

If those of us who are in the Church could learn to tell the truth, that painful, heart wrenching truth, we would do a much better job of being the Church.

Magdalene6127 said...

Pastor Peters, when my marriage was falling apart I kept it to myself until he moved out. Then I sent a letter to the congregation asking for prayers and also respect for my privacy, but telling the truth: that my marriage was ending (and I was heartbroken about it, didn't want it). I found that people reached out in prayer. I found that women who'd gone through divorce (esp. those whose husbands had left them) reached out in a particular way.

I had been preaching pain and darkness for several months without being explicit about my life. I think I did it the way I needed to, which was with some specific kinds of boundaries and also honesty.

I am grateful for your deep wisdom and clarity in how you walk through this. I would urge you, in addition to your honesty, to find/ reach out to clergy colleagues, maybe find/ start a group. I think we need both.

You remain in my prayers, dear one. (((Pastor Peters)))

maryallison said...

yes, yes, yes! and thankyou.

Pastor Peters said...

littlemary and mags, i agree with you that it's a careful dance. but i think it's important to dance. otherwise, we're not real people. and pastors like that drive me nuts.