Pastors go through seasons of doubt. Sometimes, they’re long.
You doubt yourself, the world, the future and even God. Maybe it’s wrong to admit this publicly, but this is reality.
Pastors aren’t immune to being impacted by what we’re asked to carry, and the weight gets to be a lot.
Though few will admit it, the symbols start losing their mystery, the salt starts to lose its flavor, and the will to keep going starts to become fleeting under the weight of pastoral obligation. You bury things that are hard to deal with, and leave other things unburied, unremedied.
I am in such a place, and I wanted to share a couple of my encounters to unburden some who are finding the yoke heavy right now.
I needed a break! Church crises had taken a toll on everyone, and relationships were starting to fray. My inbox was flooded with tragedy, followed by travesty, with a spoonful of misery just to spice things up.
Our nation was reeling from sky-high inflation, the whispers of civil war had been circulating for months, and the public was enflamed by an unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion rights.
Now, add to the COVID-19 pandemic a Monkeypox outbreak, which is acutely (but not exclusively) hitting gay and bisexual men, a war in Ukraine, and China threatening Taiwan, and it all becomes too much!
When I got to that point, I knew I had to get away.
If the stress of all this isn’t surprising, this next part just might: I left California this summer to have the space for progressive awakening in Texas. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
Shortly after arriving in Texas, Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album came out. The Queen Bey reminded me not to let people or circumstances “Break my Soul,” or to put bridles on my expression, as “Church Girl” lined out.
In the days after she interrupted my pity party, I began seeing the exhortation that this album became to a breathless generation, myself included, and opened my eyes to something I’d not been paying attention to.
While the church is caught up in factionalism, people who are tired of waiting on us to get our act together are building altars in the world. And the seekers are gathering.
Two Saturdays ago, I visited downtown San Antonio. I felt that the least I could do before anyone tries to ban gay relations was to do my civic duty and be gay in public: a truly revolutionary act in America these days.
I met some friends, and we were going to have a couple of drinks at a bar called Pegasus. When I arrived, there were bleachers outside and a stage had been set up.
Before I knew it, I had been surrounded by a diverse, multigenerational crowd, cheering on some (mostly Latina) drag performers. I sat through about six singers who each sang about encouragement, persistence and faith.
Sitting in this bar for the first time in many years, I heard a performer interpret Gladys Knight’s cover of “End of the Road.” I flashed back to that last time I’d been at Pegasus with my friend (my pretend boyfriend) Ivan, who would be killed in San Antonio a few years later.
His death had haunted me for years, and the memory was stirred up by this woman singing. This performer poured out raw emotions with her hands, lips and eyes, and everyone in that crowd sat remembering loves and loved ones lost.
As I thought of Ivan, I recognized in a light epiphany – as if in a Shakespearean aside – that I was being healed in this moment, in this postmodern tent meeting, by a transvestite.
This assembly was something more than a party. It was a revival and resuscitation. It was required.
It’s not what most people imagine when thinking of gay bars – that they can be factories of reconstructed faith, holy places where the Spirit saves lives late at night.
Then Texas politics crossed my view, with reports that Beto O’Rourke, a candidate for governor in Texas, used an expletive in response to a man who was laughing when Beto was explaining the destructiveness of AR-15’s on human beings.
Though criticized by some, Beto’s response lit a fire in many fed-up hearts, and I sensed that boldness needs some reassessment in the body of Christ.
People need prophets, and like Bishop William Barber II, says, “Prophets are given the charge to bless what is blessed, and to curse what is cursed.”
Beto’s passionate reply felt good in my being, because I’m tired of having nothing effective to say to the vileness I face every day in this nation. And kindness has been a little less than lethal lately.
What place does kindness hold in the act of liberating people today? And how bold should we be when trying to build God’s kin-dom on Earth?
For the prophet takes the breath of revival and resuscitation and wields it to speak against impossibility, anxiety and fear. Isn’t that how the prophetic should sound when in the mouths of church folks as well?
My trip to Texas helped me re-regulate my breathing this summer, reflect on what has been happening, and reallocate my words toward more impact for those grieving.
Nothing fundamentally changed, except my faith in the providence of God not to wait on the church to get right before God acts to lift the brokenhearted through whoever is willing and available, regardless of profession.
Maybe God just needed to remind me, in this season of well-founded doubts, who my faith is actually in.