Afraid of our own shadow


Sometimes there comes a moment in our lives when we realize that we are not the people we think that we are.

One of those moments happened to me about a year ago when I visited my alma mater, my seminary. I wanted to go there to get a change of scenery, enjoy the comforting heat, and do some writing. I was staying in the big, warm home of my friends Lewie Donelson and Lin Team.

I was most excited about visiting the library. I had a long list of books I needed to look up. There are a number of theological libraries in D.C., of course, but I spent so many hours in my seminary library that going back feels like I’m visiting a living room from my childhood. With that smell of old rough yellow paper–it’s like home.

Except, when I got there, I could not find a single book that I needed. None of them were there. I couldn’t believe it. So, I left a letter for the director of the library, enumerating all of the volumes and the reasons why they ought to be in every theological library.

When I returned to the house, Lewie (one of my former professors) was making dinner. I dropped my book bag, helped myself to a glass of water and said, “You know, I’m a nice person. I don’t mean to complain. I don’t mean to be a pain. But I had to leave a letter. I just couldn’t believe that the books weren’t there….”

And my good teacher said, “Yes you do.”

I looked up from the glass and asked, “What? Yes I do what?”

“You do mean to complain. And you do mean to be a pain. You’ve always been a pain, Carol. You don’t know that about yourself? Because we all know that about you.”

I laughed. And it hit me all at once. It was like one of those Academy Awards lifetime achievement shows, where a whole career of scenes flashes on a screen. Except it was just in my head… this entire montage of gripes and protests were there… twelve year’s worth. And I realized that ever since I stepped foot on that campus, I was making a fuss about something.

He was right. I thought of myself as this really nice, easily satisfied person, but I do like to complain. I do like being a pain. I keep things stirred up all the time.

I don’t think I’ve really embraced the scrappy side of myself often, because I don’t think it’s very attractive. I love women who fight. In history they’re my greatest heroes.

But, I’m a spiritual leader, and so I like to think that I rise above the fray. When I think of the room of my spiritual life, I think of all the nice things. How much I like to pray. Stuff like that. I don’t like to imagine what’s creeping about in the corners.

And yet, ignoring the things that we don’t like about ourselves doesn’t make them go away.

To put this in psychological terms, this side of me, this angry, frustrated, and never-content side of me is my shadow side. Carl Jung writes about this a lot. In many of his works, he talks about the shadow side of humans. He says that most humans aren’t actually as good as we think we are. And we walk around with these shadows lurking within us. The more that we repress them or ignore them, the denser the shadow gets. And we have a greater conflict with our conscious selves.

We see religious leaders who get caught in this trap all the time. The preacher rails against family values in our society with consuming fury. Then, the next thing you know, he’s been caught with some prostitute.

We shake our heads at the hypocrisy. But, the actions make a lot of sense in Jungian terms. The man’s conscious self was in deep conflict with his shadow side. And the results were thoroughly destructive.

And so I’m learning to recognize those things that lurk about in the shadows. The unattractive things I don’t like to see in the mirror–I’m figuring out how embrace them, hold them, and realize that they’re a part of who I am.

photo’s by Kristin Hayes


Tax time


I’m writing my sermon. But, my pile of receipts is taunting me. I have to start sorting, adding, and pulling my hair out soon.

IRS time became a whole lot easier when I started using Turbo Tax. And at least Easter didn’t fall on April 15 this year….

Any other suggestions for tax time sanity?

Staying power


In the comments from the last post, Ryan wanted to know the reason why pastors stay in the ministry. I began to write them all down in the comment section, but it was going on forever.

Here are the reasons:

The people. You just fall in love with the people. Even the mean ones.

The sense that every once in a while, you help someone through a difficult time. A death, a sickness, a break-up.

When someone says, “That sermon seemed to be written for me.”

The teenagers. I love the teenagers. You don’t even know that you have any effect on them, until you announce that you’re leaving and their mom tells you that they cried for two days.

Someone writes about the church in the family Christmas letter.

You find flowers on your desk on Monday morning.

A college student introduces you to their parents at graduation, and the mom says, “Oh yes. I feel like I know you. My son talks about the church all the time.”

Someone tells you that he wants to attend seminary.

The couple you’ve been praying for tells you that they’re pregnant.

A little girl says, “I want your job.”

A woman finds her husband dead in the bed next to her, and calls you before she calls 9-1-1.

A person cries when you ask if he wants to pray before going into surgery.

Baptisms. Every time you hold that baby, and you lead the congregation in those promises…it’s just so moving. And at that moment, you realize that your congregation will never be the same again.

You overhear one of the children in your congregation explain the Trinity.

When someone learns to overcome her fear of public speaking with the support of a loving congregation.

When the soloist sucks, and people tell her she did a wonderful job. And you know that they’re not lying.

When the sanctuary is full on Easter. Maybe it sounds ego-driven… but when you’re the pastor of a small church, once a year it’s just really nice to see a full sanctuary.

When your tiny choir pulls off a really difficult piece. Beautifully. And you realize when the last note ends that you were holding your breath the whole time.

When someone who swore off church walks into the doors. And then they come back.

When you drive a bag of groceries out to a family, and when you arrive, you realize that you’re holding the contents of their entire family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

When you take a job and you find out that half the congregation swore that they’d NEVER hire a woman. And then when you leave, they hire another woman.

And even when you have to stand before a group of people who have just stabbed you in the back and preach to them. I don’t know…when you get through it, and there’s still some love left in your heart…you have a sense that you’ve just accomplished something big. It’s a real discipline.

I guess it’s just a place where these small miracles occur all the time.

What would you add?

In the beginning…


I was asked by a couple of very thoughtful people yesterday, “When you began as a young pastor, did you feel like you were thrown to the wolves?”

It didn’t take long for me to answer, “Yes.” But the response surprised me when it came out of my mouth.

“What made you stay?” They asked.

And I rambled for a while. I said when I was about to hang up my stole for the last time, a search committee called me out of the blue, and it was my dream church. It had an amazing ministry to the homeless, it was welcoming of LGBT men and women, and it had a diverse, intergenerational congregation. The Clerk of Session was in her 20s. And it even had those elements that I wanted badly, but I felt kind of greedy about admitting it: beautiful architecture and soaring music.

It was a clear sign. And so I put the stole back on. And I’m so thankful that I did….

Even with the teeth marks, I’m glad I took the path that I did, beginning with two small parishes as a solo pastor. Not being an associate during my first call formed my pastoral identity. Preaching every week helped me to find my voice. And I developed a leadership style that wouldn’t have emerged if I had been on a staff.

But, small churches are hard. There’s no doubt about it. Some of them have open secrets that will make you shudder when you find them out. Those families have a hundred of years of history together. And the pastor’s always an outsider…

So, what would you say to the students who are reading this? What’s the best path for new pastors? Is it better for APs? Did you ever feel like you were thrown to the wolves? What made you stay?

Sex is challenging


Adam Walker Cleaveland at Pomomusings asked about The Sex Challenge at Relevant Church. Basically, for thirty days, the lead pastor’s challenging single people to stay abstinent every day and married couples to have sex every day.

My gut reaction and my comment was, “It’s horrifying.”

Then, I took a couple of days, stewing about what made me so irritated. I mean, a lot people commented that they were glad that the church was talking openly about sex. Sex is good, after all.

I wonder what the pastor’s motivation behind this is. Is it to jumpstart the sex lives of his congregation? Let them realize what a wonderful thing it is? Is it to combat our cultural notion that people have great sex until they get married? Or is it just a cheap marketing ploy? I mean, we all know that sex sells… and I am blogging about it after all…. But my deeper concern is that this sort of stunt fortifies that pernicious idea that women must be, at all times, sexually available for their husbands.

Maybe it’s my background. While I was growing up, we did talk about sex in church. A lot. In the context of marriage, it was presented in a positive light.

But then there was this nasty persistent undercurrent that I saw many couples get swept away in. There was that idea (a biblical one, in fact) that a wife should never deny her husband. This verse definitely goes on the list of things I wish were not in the Bible.

Growing up in the midst of our religious community, I watched the sad and detrimental effects. Husbands often went away with an over-bloated sense of entitlement, feeling that they had the right to demand and dictate when their wives should have sex with them. Women lost control of a very, very basic right–the right over their own bodies.

And it followed that when the men were not “satisfied” and they had this entitlement issue, it seemed almost permissible for them to have an affair. No one said that, exactly. But when an affair occurred, the first whispers had to do with whether the wife was generous enough in the bedroom. They always seemed to blame the victim.

We’ve heard it…especially in church. It’s old news. We all remember what Mark Driscoll did when Ted Haggard hired a prostitute and did drugs with him. Well, he posted this:

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.

So, there’s my back-story. That’s why I’m horrified at the thought of a male religious leader pressuring a couple to have sex everyday.

There are times in every relationship when a spouse can’t have sex. He or she is just not emotionally or physically able. And one of the most precious things that a partner can do is to understand when that happens–to put his or her own desires aside out of respect for a loved one.

We should talk openly about sex–but in our churches I dare say that women’s voices have not been heard on this issue. We have a huge percentage of women in our country who have been victims of sexual violence. So much that it’s almost a norm… And I’m afraid the church has a long way to go before they can begin to help in the healing process.

In loving relationships, women should always have the right to have sex or not to have it. And men should too. No pastor should dictate that. When we talk about sex in church, it should be held with deep respect and mutual consent always needs to be our starting place.

photo’s by Mirage

Is any one else getting tired of the Layman?


In our denomination, we have an ultra-conservative (and ultra-powerful, in many ways) independent newspaper called The Presbyterian Layman. They consider themselves the watchdogs of our church, protecting us from all sorts of heresy and foul behavior. And, maybe I’m just getting this from the name, but it seems as if they’re shielding the church from…err…our own ministers.

I don’t read it. I have a lot of friends who do, but I had to put it down, because it made me feel all irritated. It gave me the same overwhelming frustration I got when I was in second grade and I wanted to punch my older brother (he was in eleventh).

So now I just read it when my friends make the cover. I call them, tell them I’m sorry, and we laugh about all of the mistakes and misinformation that the reporters passed on. If I can mix up some more family metaphors, the newspaper’s like that weird, embarrassing uncle that everyone tries to avoid at the reunion, but then he gets so loud that he’s hard to ignore.

Likewise, the rant rag has gotten more annoying. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in denomination for more years, and so I’m more invested in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched my conservative friends get run through the gristmill along with the liberals, and I just don’t think it’s fair. And, of course, there are the wonderful people who are just doing their jobs….

A couple years ago, my dear friend Beth Sentell was engineering a merger between two small churches. To do something like that successfully is no small feat. Often one congregation is simply engulfed by another, but she and a neighboring pastor managed to do the delicate work of uniting two congregations without losing anyone along the way.

And then, of course, there was the issue of property. They didn’t need two buildings any longer, so they put the church up for sale. After months, they got an offer–a really good offer–from an Islamic Community Center. They sold the property, and figured that the matter was settled.

It was, until the Layman decided that the good laws that govern that govern our good nation (namely that you can’t discriminate against people on real estate deals on the basis of religion) weren’t good enough.

They wrote a story, misconstruing the facts. Among other things, they wrote that the congregation had turned down solid offers from other churches in order to sell it to the Muslims. Soon after the story ran, an anti-Islamic blog reprinted it. And so now, when someone does a google search on Beth’s name, all of this stuff comes up….

I’m all for free speech, but shouldn’t free speech be tempered by some sort of responsibility? And, we’re all Christians, right? Shouldn’t that apply to us even more? How long do we put up with this? Is there anything that we can do to defend people whose reputations are ruined by nastiness? Do any other denominations have this sort of thing? What do you do?

I don’t know the people who run the newspaper. Parker Williamson looks like he’s close to retiring. I hope that his way of thinking retires when he does.

The photo’s of my brother, Mark Howard (whom I haven’t wanted to punch in 25 years), shredding up the waves in Hawaii.



I got tagged by Jim Bonewald, The Church Geek by Aric Clark, and by Lee Hinson-Hasty. They sent me a meme that originated from Bruce Reyes-Chow, who’s running for Moderator of the General Assembly this year.

1. What is your earliest memory of being distinctly Presbyterian?

I was working at Cokesbury Bookstore, at my seminary, and during a lull, I was complaining to a professor because a local Presbyterian had just been really rude to me. I knew who she was. She was the minister of a church that had been steadily shrinking in size for years. “It’s so strange. I can’t understand these pastors. If you have a congregation that’s dwindling in numbers, wouldn’t you want to be nice to people? Maybe invite them to church, instead of yelling at them?”

The prof answered, “You only say that because you’re not Presbyterian.”

I was shocked, “What? Yes I am!” I didn’t grow up in the PCUSA, but I was a member. And a candidate in the ordination process.

“Nope. You’re not. And you never will be.”

Maybe it was sheer defiance, but at that moment, for the first time, I thought, “Yes. Yes, I am Presbyterian.” And it sunk in.

2. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend LESS energy and time?

The question of how to keep people out of ordained ministry positions. I was in on a meeting with denominational leaders once. The reason for the meeting was so that we could talk about how to inspire good churches to hire young pastors, and how young pastors could be encouraged to move up in their jobs.

The conversation quickly moved to how the leaders had been very effective in keeping people out of certain positions. I left the gathering frustrated, because it seemed like so much energy was going into keeping certain people out, there was no time left for encouraging the good pastors of any age.

3. On what issue/question should the PC(USA) spend MORE energy and time?

Planting churches. It’s early spring in the Presbyterian Church. All at once, we have congregations that are closing and a whole crop of innovative pastors who want to start new churches.

Because of my writing and speaking, I tend to look at things through a generational lens. And what I see is a generation of very creative thirty-somethings (and older) who want to begin something new. Then, I see a vast generation of twenty-somethings who want something new.

If we could get everyone in our denomination to imagine the possibilities of this exciting moment, if we could all shift gears, let go of the money, support the pastors, and allow them to start new churches, then we’ll be looking at some very, very fruitful years to come.

That’s why I’m excited about Bruce’s run for moderator. He’s living that vision. And maybe it’ll become contagious….

4. If you could have the PC(USA) focus on one passage of scripture for an entire year, what would it be?

Isaiah 43

5. If the PC(USA) were an animal what would it be and why?

I would say one of those beautiful beetles. In ancient Egypt, they were considered to be a sign of creativity and transformation. You can still buy scarab beads, and I often do.

6. For Extra Credit: Jesus shows up at General Assembly this year, what does he say to the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

I guess I’d have to skip the extra credit. Jesus always confounds me. He’s either turning over tables or weeping over his people. Every time I read the gospels, he’s surprising me with something. I never know what Jesus would do.

Now, I’ll tag (this is the hardest part of every meme… trying to discriminate who will play and who will be annoyed that you asked): Brian Merritt, Jan Edmiston,
Ryan Pappan (you can wait until Easter, Ryan), Heather Reichgott, and Neal Locke.

The rules are simple:
* in about 25 words each, answer the five questions (okay, so I cheated).
* tag five presbyterian bloggers and send them a note to let them know they were tagged (and…I forgot the note. It was almost Easter…)
* be sure to link or send a trackback to this post.