Here we are...

Just off the Port Bow—a place of uncertainty, adventure, and insight. Thank you for your ears, eyes and hearts. I hope to bring compassion, grace and beauty to your day.

Please tell me what works!

Twice in my pastoral career have I "lost it" in the pulpit.  Twice that I can remember.  Well, one other time, and that was at a funeral, and that story will need to remain underground for the time.

The most recent incident was during a sermon on Pity.  I realized that what I was saying to the congregation was hitting me at the deepest levels.  I was coming unglued.  Mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  No one in the congregation was the wiser.  I masked it well, it seems.  But, on the way home I called a close friend and asked him to give me the number of this psychologist he knew and respected.  Because I still have a recording of that sermon I can date the breakdown.  Two years of intense therapy ensued, and has been life changing.

The earlier incident of losing it was not during a sermon, but it was from a pulpit at announcement time.  I am one of those pastors who hates announcements.  I know all the reasons for doing them, and including them carefully in the worship program....I still hate them.  Which ones to include, invest in, reject out of hand, or forget.

I had been asked, just before the service started- natch- to announce a class on "self control" to be offered by a gentleman in the church who was good at this sort of class.  Fair enough.  Into the pulpit I ascended, out from my pocket drew my notes, and into the fray I charged (get these blasted things out of the way quickly and get back to the business at hand, worshipping God).

When I got to the words "self control" I lost it.  I am a Past Master (and present) OCD Control Freak. I have cornered the market.  No one can out control me.  I learned from the best (may they rest in peace...and I am talking about you, mother) and have carefully studied the craft my entire life.  Now, someone in our church was to give a class on self control.  This was too much.  It was too funny.

I am a recovering alcoholic.  I am used to going into a room full of people and saying, "Hi, I'm Peter. I'm a recovering alcoholic".  I now imagined a room full of folk gathered around the altar of self control, confessing their addiction to obsessive compulsive tendencies, and to manipulative relationships.  I could see myself leading the way; getting it all out on the table.  "Hi, Peter."

As a rule clergy are not supposed to fall on the floor of the pulpit in uncontrolled hysterics, unless you are a part of the current "laughing gospel" thing, in which case everyone in the church is writhing on the floor with you.  This was not that kind of a church.

I tried to regain my composure, and fell back to the floor convulsed.  The elders gathered around, some wondering, I'm sure, if we were maybe going to become one of "those" churches.  The congregation, being a group of really wonderful and loving folk, took it all in stride.  They trusted me, and sensed that it was OK to laugh along with me.

Eventually I pulled it together, apologized to the gentleman to be leading the group on (well, I didn't say the words....I knew better)...and carried on with the rest of the service.

What do these two incidents have in common, beside the obvious "losing it" dynamic?  It is the response, isn't it?  My laughable lack of self control and my soul busting cry for pity both demanded some sort of response.  Getting it together was not going to work.  Working on my failings was not going to work.

In fact, I have tried just about every spiritual discipline there is to deal with impulsive, compulsive, and self-pitying behaviors and attitudes.  None of it really works in the long term.  None of it.

Not the will.  Certainly not good intentions.  Not retreats, programs or self-help books.  Not theology or spiritual counsel.

(I have been sober for 30 years, but am no longer active in AA.  I do believe that some of what I have found that works might have been found in those rooms....I just don't know, it wasn't my road.)

There is really only one thing which has helped me in any tangible and lasting way.  Compassion for Self.

Self pitying arises out of the despairing possibility that one can never escape one's weaknesses; the impulses, compulsions, fears, or needs to control, which define the lives of so many.  It is a hopeless cycle.  I can cite chapter and verse on this law of human nature.

I am now learning that Chapter One, Verse One of inner healing is all about Compassion (grace as it is focused by the self on the self).

This sounds suspect and too simplistic.  Please note that I said this is just the first verse of the first chapter.  The Prologue to John's Gospel says much the same.  Or this, from one of John's epistles, "God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him."

Embracing this Great Compassion works for me.  I have not sworn off my OCD, controlling or self-pitying tendencies.  I have placed them in a new and hopeful context.  And, right now, it seems to work.  If progress is made, it is made in the context of The Great Compassion.  If compulsions are avoided, they are so in the context of The Great Compassion.  If self pity is on the back burner it is not removed from the warming oven of The Great Compassion.

The Great Compassion surrounds all, works through all, and is in all.

I'm going for it.

Background Noise

Getting Out of your own Way