Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are Clergy Human?

Are clergy human? This is of course a completely ludicrous question. We all know that they’re not. Not really, not totally, not through and through. Not quite like the rest of us. 

If clergy were really and truly human, why would it seem so strange to us ordinary folks to see them at the grocery store? Clergy buying food is one thing, since we know Jesus ate food and did stuff with food, like multiply it, give it away, and make rituals out of it. It’s even possible that Jesus liked wine, though there aren’t any stories in scripture about him overindulging. Just some parables he told about celebrations and lavish banquets and a really weird one about a guy getting tossed from a wedding feast for wearing the wrong clothes (though some of my best and smartest friends don’t really think Jesus himself told that particular story).

But . . . clergy buying toilet paper? or tampons? There’s nothing in scripture about that! Well, actually, there is kind of a lot in the Hebrew scriptures about things related to cleanliness, menstrual blood, and proper feminine hygiene, but I don’t think we want to go there. 

And Jesus did once make a witty remark about the clear difference between your left hand (used in those days for wiping what one of those smart friends of mine calls “stern realities”) and your right hand, used for eating, and for shaking other people’s right hands, and things like that. 

God! (pardon the expression) I never thought of this before--what would you have done in those days if you were actually left-handed? How confusing!

Anyway, it’s obvious that clergy can’t really be human, or else why would so many people go a little weird and look strangely shocked if they happen upon their local minister in the grocery store in the act of choosing toilet paper? Say, between Green Forest and Seventh Generation, if they’re properly, ecologically-minded; or, if they like the thick cushy stuff, between Charmin and Cottonelle? They don’t really use that stuff, do they? They couldn’t possibly need it, right?

And the tampons--those must be for someone else, maybe for a daughter (forget for the moment how that Daughter of Clergy was conceived and came into being) or for a friend or neighbor in need. That must be it. Clergy are always doing something good and kind for someone else, right?

And that brings up the guilt thing. Seeing your priest or minister in the grocery store is an instant guilt trip. What is it about those God-people, anyway? The minute you see them you instantly know how long it has been since you last set foot in church, and the muddled and pretty pathetic excuses simply flood your brain’s language center. It’s all you can think to say. No wonder you look around to see if there’s an item you suddenly need at the other end of the aisle (or that you’re relieved when it appears that the very same thing has just happened to your minister). 

No wonder you, and others, tend to move away from clergy at concerts, school plays, and cocktail parties. That is, if they even get invited to the cocktail parties, which is rare enough, and then if they even show up, which is rarer still, especially if the parties are on Saturday nights. Clergy can be such stick-in-the-muds; real joy killers. 

I mean, you can’t even swear around them. It’s such a downer at a party. Suddenly you have to really watch your language. The only way around it is to make dumb jokes to them about fixing the weather instead, or something about them having an “in” with God.

Without a doubt the most unsettling thing about clergy is the God thing. Do they have some sort of super-human relationship with God or not? Have they actually chosen to spend all their time praying, being good, and thinking about God and talking about God, instead of say, NASCAR, diapers, money, or sex? 

Why would clergy need money or sex, anyway? They’re spiritual, right? (And super religious, too. More proof of them not really being human!)

We all know that spiritual people don’t really need money the way the rest of us do, and they certainly wouldn’t desire money, right? That would be somehow, well, unspiritual, not holy. These days some clergy have started getting a bit uppity on that topic, with denominations setting compensation guidelines and things like that. Almost like they’re a union, for Pete’s sake! That can’t be right.

You can tell that clergy really haven’t got the same kind of need or desire for money as the rest of us, though, because when they talk about money, it’s so awkward! You can tell they don’t want to be doing it. Like it really is a dirty topic for them. So they really only do it when it’s time for the congregation’s annual fundraising--oops! I mean, stewardship--campaign. And then money becomes a very spiritual topic. Although I’m still not convinced about that. It just doesn’t fit somehow.

And then there’s sex, the hottest and thorniest subject of all. I hear from the news that lots of clergy have issues with sex, especially with the wrong kinds of sex. It almost seems to break down along denominational lines. Like having sex with children is mostly a Roman Catholic clergy thing; and having sex with adult members of the congregation is more of a Protestant clergy thing; and having affairs with people outside the congregation and with prostitutes, well, maybe that’s more of a politician’s thing. Maybe I’m getting mixed up here.

I’m sure you understand why I might get mixed up. Clergy and sex is a very confusing topic. A befuddling idea. Some clergy don’t have sex because they're officially not supposed to, like when they're monks, or not married, or gay. Some are officially not supposed to but have it anyway. 

Some are officially allowed to have sex because they're married, but they don't because they spend all their best energy at work, and there’s nothing left over at the end of the day but a bona fide headache. 

Some maybe don’t have sex or much of it because they internalize all the strange messages we throw at them. First there’s Christianity’s seriously mixed messages about sex: it’s holy; it’s sinful; it’s only for making babies, not for pleasure; it’s meant to be joyful. And then there’s the stuff we ordinary folks send their way: We want them to be “normal” and like us, but then we don’t really want them to be that normal and like us at all. We want them to be different. 

You know, lots of us kind of want our clergy to be special and different, because . . . actually I don’t really know why we do. Maybe it’s because we want to think they have a better, clearer connection to God than we have (and yet the thought of that possibility also scares us, wants to push them away). Maybe we want to think they're different because that way they’ll be able to rescue us when we need rescuing. Maybe it’s because we want them to carry all our fantasies and hopes about God and our projections of our own power and our own “holiness” and wholeness, or of our guilt and hypocrisy and other stuff we'd rather not face. 

Maybe it’s because when we keep clergy special and separate, we can try to let them do the heavy lifting and let ourselves off the hook. That way, you get to imagine someone else is responsible for figuring out your own faith, and you get to imagine that some other entity, like God, is responsible for your happiness. And that you’re not really free to claim the authority of your own soul, or to fully live into your own power, or make choices every day about what would expand your life. 

I don’t know. I’ll have to think about that some more. And maybe you can think about it, too, and tell me what you decide.

All I know for sure is that it’s really easy (and not very healthy for us, for them, or for anyone else, including God) to imagine that clergy are not quite like you and me. 

I know because I used to be one of “them,” and now I’m one of “us,” that is, one of us blessedly ordinary human beings. Although I suppose I’m kind of a hybrid, a crossover of sorts. I was ordained for more than twenty-four years, more than half my life thus far, and now I’m not any more, by my own choice. 

I’m still more or less the same person now as I was when I was ordained. Although much more myself, much more free and alive, much more grateful for life. Much more committed to my own happiness. And having much more fun. What’s that all about?

So are clergy human? You tell me.


Meredith said...

I do believe you have started your book! ;o)

Sukie Curtis said...

Sometimes I'm surprised at the voice that emerges!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. But isn't being human at the crux of all our struggles? Isn't that why we are all so relieved that Jesus joined us in our human-ness? I mean, i'm a hybrid too being raised Jewish and then becoming baptized with my children as an adult so I'm really dumb! I struggle greatly with this whole christian thing constantly. The Rabbi's of my youth didn't seem that holy to me- I can clearly remember seeing one of them eating a hot dog (kosher of course) at our posh Jewish Country club with mustard all over his face. For me though, the clergy now (at my liberal UCC church) are a comfort because they do know so much about the bible. After all they've studied it for so long and they can help make sense out of it- it's a pretty confusing book! And also, my minister swears like a boxer so I'm good there (at least behind closed doors). You are a wonderful writer. I'm so glad I came across your blog (though I have no idea how!)- write that book!

Sukie Curtis said...

Thanks, Anonymous! Glad you have joined in. Yes, seeing your rabbi with mustard-smeared face would really help prevent the clergy-olatry that some fall prey to (which I've rather caricatured here, of course). I think it's the more hierarchical religions and denominations that set up more of the conditions for seeing clergy as somehow other than human.

Anyway, thanks for your comment.