Coffee at the Kitchen Table

If you grew up in a parsonage, you understand about the felt obligation to be the perfect host or hostess at all times.  It was especially true in denominations with all male clergy that the wife felt the burden of being the perfect housekeeper because she never knew when her husband was going to be bringing someone home AND she was sure that whoever stepped foot in her door was going to spread the word that she had not dusted the light bulbs or had left a stray sock on the floor of the laundry room.  If you belonged to a denomination where anything less than perfection was a sin, this burden was greater still.

The solution to this stressful way of living was to never have anyone come too close.  Do not let people see who you really are behind closed doors.  This led to the impression that you and your family were cold and haughty or judgmental, when it was really the fear of judgment by others that led to the behavior in the first place.

This all leads to one of the saddest ironies I know:  both the people on the inside and the people on the outside of the church are fearful of being judged and rejected. Images of Dante’s Inferno and “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” override the proclamations of God Is Love and “We find salvation in grace alone, and this not of ourselves, it is a gift of God”.  To protect themselves and cover their vulnerabilities, religious people hide their fears behind judgmental attacks.  Who gets to judge whom is the name of the game.  The bully pulpit becomes the pulpit for bullies.  For fear of being cast out as less than perfect, some spiritual leaders are quick to make outcasts of others.

There are far too many people in leadership positions who refuse to let others see their own vulnerabilities.  They have been hurt too often when their human weaknesses show through, so they won’t let anyone get that close anymore.  One way to do that is to hurt others through pronouncing judgment before others can hurt them.  Sadly none of this allows for any healing in individuals. None of this allows for sharing in the prosperity and health of a community.

Yet, we all need to know we are loved and accepted before we can find true wholeness.  This applies to the spiritual leader as well as anyone else.  After we know we are accepted fully we can give up the felt need for perfectionism and blaming.  We can invite others into our kitchen with all its mess and stains.  We can share coffee out of chipped mugs and share our stories.

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