[excerpted from life 11 months ago…]
“Everyone in ministry should be reduced to a dollar amount at least once in their lives… it gives you a chance to decide if you are truly a herald of the gospel or of the institution.”
Not long ago I was reduced to a dollar amount in an elegant equation:
Budget – People = Savings.
When he spoke to the larger group, he didn’t use those exact words. Instead, the words ‘Painful Decisions’ were substituted for People. He took the low road by sugar-coating the issue to try and gain absolution. In difficult situations, I have always tried to take the high road, to set aside my own agendas and treat people with respect and dignity. I realize now that I automatically assume that others desire to do the same, but more and more, it seems that people in general are less brave than in the early pioneer days. Ours is a technology-driven world anymore and it’s just too easy to hide behind an email or text message or data.
As the result of painful decisions, I lost my job. My office of ministry, along with four others, was cut from the budget and eleven of us were let go. In these times of economic crisis, I understand how rapidly fear generates more fear. We lock onto the single most difficult decision we hope we’ll never be asked to make, and then all other options disappear. Fear makes us believe that it’s the only choice we have. How weird is that! To somehow convince ourselves that what we’re most afraid of is what we are asked to do.
Inner turmoil and guilt justify our bravery. How deep the agony of discernment goes confirms the greater rightness of the decision until—“I just couldn’t see any other way.” Wink, wink—head hung low, one eye toward the ground and one eye upward to see if anyone recognizes the amount of personal anguish that went into the decision. This is false bravery. The truly courageous act would have been to gather the people involved and slog through the muck of dialogue, working together to find solutions and make decisions. Much more bravery is required to help a community face its problems than to make a tough decision behind closed doors.
In any case, the more telling signs came when the actions didn’t match the words, or another apropos equation in this story: Savings = $$ for Other Special Projects
Then the real hurt came. No further communication except in the form of severance letters. No apparent sign of remorse or condolence. No answers or recourse. I heard the classic parent reasoning in one form or another over and over: I’m the dad and I said so. Timelines and deadlines, do’s and don’t’s, save and toss, that was all. I have heard others rave of your compassion in times of grief and loss. Where was it then? I think it must have been hiding behind the painful decisions you were chosen to make. I have no doubt that the depth of your anguish was like a cut to the bone… but sadly you recovered easily and moved forward with great haste.
It was a painful moment when I was reduced to a dollar amount. Thinking I was a faithful servant doing God’s work in the vineyard, I saw the vinemaster coming and saying “I don’t need you to pick grapes anymore” and me looking down rows upon rows ready for harvest. To me, it was all about the people. My first question to them was: Do you realize you are cutting every direct service to the people of God?
Them: Yes, we do.
Me: What am I supposed to tell them all?
Them: Tell them that our spending has exceeded our income and we’ve made the decision to close…
Me thinking: You don’t get it… how am I supposed to tell them that everything is just gone…
That’s where the disconnect is… when we hide behind decisions that we justify by whatever facts and figures we choose. I couldn’t hide behind a press release or a pulpit announcement.
Me wondering: How did they feel after the fact?
Them perhaps: Let’s go home and crawl into bed; pull up the covers and drink our medicine… we’ll feel better in the morning.
I continue to deal with the fallout every day. People ask me: “So what are you doing now?” “You lost your job?!… I had no idea.” “Goodbye, my daughter. I’ll be home in a few days.” (I went to work in a parish 150 miles away from home.)
On the other side of these painful moments, I decide that I must truly be a herald of the Gospel. I am foolish to continue to give this church the very best of who I am and what I know. It would have been so much more satisfying to leave saying, “I’m taking my marbles and going home now!” and stomping the ground as I left. But then Jeff calls me… that darn friend… and puts a verse on my lips… “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” (John 6:68—I had to go look it up.)
I am cut to the quick.
There is nothing inside me that will let me walk away. No matter how deeply I have been hurt. I have survived the death of a child, the death of a mentor, umpteen thousand personal attacks, an oppressive bishop and now a job lay-off from the church. I have more than enough reasons to totally and completely walk away from all that is Catholic. So why haven’t I?
Because I’m stupid. Foolish enough to believe that there is an AfterFaith. Stubborn enough to believe that if God promised redemption, salvation, resurrection, then it must be there for me someday too. You really do have to be a holy fool anymore. To keep slogging through this muck. It’s a different kind of bravery, uncommon these days. My parents told me that it builds character.
(Btw… Jeff is a wise voice in my life… we’re still friends.)
[flash forward to today… history repeats itself with church job layoff #2…
come back tomorrow for the Next AfterFaith…]