It was overwhelming to receive hundreds of emails (literally, I stopped counting after 200) high-fiving me about something I wrote in a recent thought-offering. I tend not to be the guy who looks at reader metrics. There is no time for that kind of narcissism and besides, it is usually telling a lie we want to hear. I ignore “likes” on FB and don’t even open tweets – they are such clickbait for dispair.
Someone recently said, “Charles you need to see the horrible things people are saying about you on the internet.” No, I thought, I need to see what my dearest, most respected, and trusted friends say TO me – especially the hard things – the constructive criticism, the boundary-setting. And some of those “friends” who speak TO me are authors – people I read, Brene Brown, Tolstoy, Merton, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Ryan Holiday, to name a few. Can you imagine the furious tweets Thomas Merton would have attracted from the church hierarchy?! Of course, he lived in a hermitage in a forest…!
What did I say that resulted in an email tsunami? I said that I was raised in a dysfunctional family in which a mother had no boundaries and was mentally ill, while also with a father who hated that I was not macho, and was a serial monogamist whose life was led outside our home. I know. A lot to say out loud.
But what does this all have to do with church? Well, when I saw the church, I began to feel drawn to it. And like so many others, the intense “attraction” was explained to me as a “call to ordination.” So I left a successful career and entered the clergy. I used to say “it gave me a family.” And yes, that was precisely true. It gave me not only a family but exactly the same family I was raised inside of – a lunatic narcissistic bully and a weak abandoner. So OF COURSE the church felt like “a family”! It felt normal. It felt like what I had been formed by. It felt like what I was used to, after decades of formation.
So when I found myself with clergy who were busy having sex with parishioners, it seemed normal. When I found myself working for clergy who were sociopaths (with exceptions), it seemed normal. When I found myself in a climbing, hierarchical patriarchy of abandoning and bullying bishops, it was “fine” as Louise Penny would say (or rather, my heroine, Ruth.) So when I was working for bishops who were closeted homosexuals married to women, it seemed normal. When I saw clergy married to women in gay bars where I met some of my friends, it seemed normal. When I was drawn into projects by bishops in order to help the church raise money and then found that the material was stolen from me, it seemed normal. And when sick clergy charged me with relational misconduct and then were supported by bully-bishops, it felt – at first – like I deserved it – because my parents would also gaslight me daily. I had been conditioned for it. It all was a molten hell, but it was all so “normal.”
Alcohol is fine for people who were raised well. Drugs are fine for people who were raised well. Porn is not ideal, but for people needing a two-minute release, it’s understandable for people who were not raised well. Shopping online is fine, for people who were raised well. The church is fine, perhaps, for people who were raised well. Or at least it was for centuries when people had no other sources of village wisdom or fear-salve.
But the world is different today. I can read books, Google topics, and surf YouTube to get the wisdom and information I want. I am no longer dependant on the clergy for life-wisdom. And trying to make the 12-minute sermon my source of life-knowledge is rather Russian-roulette-ish.
So, as we enter a new year, I wonder how many people “were raised well.” Some were. I know them. I see them. I am jealous of them. Four or five of them over 58 years.
But as the church collapses financially from the un-friending of younger generations, it will one day die of quiet starvation. As things do. And until then, clergy and bishops will suck the last drops of money from its teets. I guess we need to let them. I guess we must just take a page from the stoics and let it all happen – only doing what is in our power to do.
What is in our power to do? See what is true. Write what is helpful. Ignore the haters. Practice mindfulness. Encourage where we may. Avert our eyes where we must. The obstacle is indeed the way. All of that suffering – from both the original family and the chosen one – made me who I am today – a man able to write. A man willing to write – lead where it may and cost what it will.