Diary of a Plain Pastor: Dirty

The mistake she made wasn’t to fight dirt, sure enough, but to try and do away with it altogether. As if that were possible! A parish is bound to be dirty.                                                                                                                                     {Diary of a Country Priest}

If you were to take a quick tour of our home, you’d find an upstairs door with a hole, crushed by a seven-year-old known as “our little hurricane.” You’d discover swaths of blue (or is it green now?) goo permanently melded into our nine-year-old’s bomb shelter (aka “room”). You’d find sketches scribbled across their (previously white) ceilings, just above their loft beds. And their bathroom – please, for the love of all that is holy and true, do not go into their bathroom – brings their mother to tears.

But of course, each of these scuffs and smells marks the presence of a boy we love, a son that has come, in such inexplicable ways, to mark our own life, our own hopes. The one thing worse than having all this chaos would be not having this chaos.

Churches are too enamored with cleaning up the chaos. Pastors, myself included, are too bent on getting the family (and this is what a church is, of course – a family) polished and scrubbed clean. A parish is bound to be dirty, at least if it’s going to have any life happening within it. Living always kicks up the dust.

The work of the church — the life of the church, that’s better — is to be a place where all the things we hide, all the things that undo us, all the things that frighten us have space to come out into the open. The church is the community where people discover what it means to live well, to love well – to be loved well. But this takes time. Rarely does it happen with a 40 Days Toward Cleanliness campaign. If my pastoral aims point at getting our church to have the right image, then I’ve abandoned my call – and I guarantee I’ve also run roughshod over people in making it happen. I’ve missed their stories. I’ve manipulated friendship. I may have managed a crusade, but I haven’t been a pastor.

Shame gets results. Brute force gets results. So does a cattle-prod. But grace and prayers and true questions (ones that say I want to know you, not I want to work you) offer the possibility of more than a sparkling clean image. Grace transforms us; but it’s a messy thing getting there.

6 Replies to “Diary of a Plain Pastor: Dirty”

  1. This reality of the mess and dirt of living with each other reminds me of my niece when she was about 4 years old holding my Bible on the way home from church, flipping through the pages and saying to me, "These are hard words." Indeed…hard words to live, for sure. Thanks for writing this, Winn.

  2. As a layman, I find that the opposite is true for me. I don't want the church to be uber-clean. I want people's mess to hang out. The thing I can't stand is when church leaders try to corral everyone in line.

    I've just changed churches due to a church split, and the cause was people began to see the pastor and his wife acting dirty towards other people by thinking they were cleaning them. Take a plank out of your own eye, eh? I think there lies the problem.

  3. Hi Winn. Laura Flanders here. I just learned that you know one of my students: Jeremy Rand. A great guy! Learned this when this particular blog post showed up on FB.

    This post reminds of what Eugene Peterson says in Reversed Thunder. He says that churches ought not to be like a Victorian parlor, but a messy living room with dirty dishes and what not. I've always loved that image.

    Keep writing. You do well with the art. I'll share this with Dale. He lived the "messy church" vision and for a long time it went so well. Then the "we want an image" cry shot it all down. But we are so grateful for the ten prior years. I miss it so.
    Hope your family is well. We will always be grateful for our experience with the Genesis Project. Helped save us during a very difficult time.

  4. hi, laura! thank you so much for dropping over. I love Jeromie and Liz, wonderful people. Of course, Eugene's influence can be seen all through my stuff, such great words and images.

    Good to hear from you – and tell Dale hello too. Thank you for the encouraging words re: writing and Genesis Project, good for the soul to hear both.

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