I’ve never wanted to be a preacher before.
I grew up in church so I have heard hundreds of sermons. For the most part they were all Baptist preachers. I did go to a Catholic mass once in college just for the experience. My older brother and cousin talked me into going. None of us had ever been to a mass so we picked a church in Springfield, Ohio, an industrial town near the university we attended. Ten-thirty at St. Joseph’s.
We arrived about ten minutes late which is a deep rooted problem in my family’s history. Some families have gambling addictions or have alcoholic uncles. Mine just can’t seem to be anywhere on time. Sometimes that is worse.
We were greeted by the priest and we dipped our fingers in the holy water and sat down on the pews.
The entire time we would simply copy what everyone else was doing. It seemed to work.
I flipped through one of the greeting brochures the priest gave us as we waited for the other late catholics to file in. After all the school tuition assistance and grief recovery group meetings were listed, the back page was reserved for coupons to several Irish pubs in the Southwest Ohio area. At least they are honest about supporting their local economy.
Once the service began it was a lot of standing up, kneeling down, and reciting verses. After the brief scripture readings, and the priest’s homily, we all arose for communion. I knew Catholics liked to be more Biblically accurate with real wine, unlike my Baptist counterparts who must have signed a binding contract with Welch’s, but I was taken aback by the fact that there was only one cup of wine for everyone. It just didn’t seem sanitary.
To avoid any more reason to look out of place, I took a sip after he wiped the rim after the woman in front of me accepted the offering. I took the slightly stale wafer from the priest and walked back to my seat. After the priest blessed the congregation we all walked out with bruised shins and a clearer view of catholicism.
Arguably the most prominent observation I was able to gather was how much easier it seemed to be a Catholic priest than a Baptist preacher. As a priest the only real part you have to prepare for is the ten minute homily. As a Baptist preacher, you have to speak for over forty five minutes with the task of keeping everyone engaged and awake. You also have to tell good stories and make people laugh every 15 minutes or so.
Sometimes I wish I was raised Catholic. I seemed to get along with them better. The commitment level seemed a lot lower and you could drink with your parents on special occasions like Christmas Eve dinner or on a Saturday night when mom was out with the girlfriends all weekend. And the only services you really had to go to was Christmas and Easter.
One of my best friends growing up is now a youth pastor in Northern Virginia at a Baptist church. His roots however, were anything but. His parents are reformed Catholics from Brooklyn and Queens who ended up at my Baptist church after they decided there was more programming for their kids. His dad is Italian and his mother is Irish so it was a very loud house.
I would go over on Sundays to watch football after his mother finished up watching the previous week’s episodes of The View. She would put chili on in the crockpot, and then polish off a bottle of pinot grigio while flipping through a magazine of Southern Cooking as us men watched our gridiron heroes battle it out.
It was the one day out of the week I could see what living in another family would be like. I loved my family growing up, but my mother only bought organic chicken and quinoa for most dinners and the pantry didn’t have any fruit rollups. We had to make a sandwich if we got hungry in between meals.
Philip’s family always had gatorades and fruit rollups in the pantry. His TV was also a giant 60 inch plasma screen in HD. My parents only had basic cable in the house because in their minds, playing outside or reading was a better use of our time.
If I wanted to watch SportsCenter I had to go to Philip’s house.
I recently saw Philip shortly after he had started as a youth pastor. I joked about getting drinks downtown to work on his testimony to provide some material for his future sermons.
Any high schooler at youth group would perk up at a story involving their youth pastor’s struggle with alcohol before Jesus came into their life. Throw in an embellished story about a car wrapping around a tree and you have a winning audience.
The more I heard from Philip about his schedule as a youth pastor, it seemed like he had a lot of free time he could fill up with just about anything. Here’s what my schedule would look like.
9-930am: Get up, shower, dress, make free trade coffee
930-945am: Drive my Honda Civic to church (the office)
945-10:15am: Arrive at the office, check email, read CNN articles as a form of rebellion
10:15-11am: All staff meeting, recap staff on upcoming fall series: The Secret Life of the Christian Teenager, subtly remind staff the youth budget is too small to meet attendance goals
11-12pm: Work on next Wednesday night’s sermon
12-1pm: Lunch with Senior Pastor, (see last line item from all staff meeting)
1-2pm: Skim through Relevant, register for online seminary courses
2-3pm: Meet high schooler, “Tim” whose parents thought it was a good idea for me to grab coffee with him. Notes: recently read Rob Bell’s Love Wins
3-315pm: Meet with former student “Allison” for coffee. Notes: Sophomore at liberal arts college, recently read all of Freud’s works in her first philosophy class ever, and is writing a book on doubting faith; wants to drop out citing universities are too capitalistic
315-316pm: Tell “Allison” you have a family emergency
316pm: Drive home and contemplate whether this was a good career choice
Like I said, I just don’t think I could be a preacher. I would struggle to fill up my day with productive tasks all while dreading Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings. Mostly I would be concerned about how my audience would take my jokes. I would practice different deliveries and punch lines while making the announcements.
Well parents and students, we have an upcoming young men’s retreat this week up in the Shenandoah and a young women’s retreat in Old Town Alexandria. Choice should be relatively obvious for most students unless you self identify with something else.
I could see the parents’ faces get red. Arms would start to cross. There’s a dad giving me a death stare from the back of the sanctuary. I could hear the moms whispering to each other.
Why did he have to say that?
What has my kid been hearing the last six months?
All valid questions.
This is why writing is more up my alley.
There’s a vetting process. It’s called editing. Editing takes the foot out of your mouth and reattaches it to your leg.
You can add. You can subtract. You get to create the pieces. You get to meticulously put the puzzle pieces together to create a picture.
You get to take the raw materials and make something meaningful out of it.
Writing is an activity I enjoy for several reasons. For starters, it can be anyone’s personal therapist and the sessions are always free. The reason why she’s a great therapist is because you do all the communicating and she’ll never tell you you’re blame shifting. She’s great at listening too and she never interrupts you. She will however make you angry at times. Especially if you miss your sessions. Your writing gets worse and worse the more you call her and cancel to take a nap or eat ice cream. Of course, you lie and tell her your relatives are in town. She’ll even remind you of your absence when you do decide to show up. You can’t write one sentence for weeks on end because your brain no longer knows how to hold a pencil or send signals to your fingers to press the keys. Your fingers feel like cinder blocks dragging across your keyboard. You attempt to put words up on the screen into some sensible order but they keep sliding down into a soupy, unlegible, oatmeal-like mess.
I now have a small taste of why writers have a reputation for drinking themselves to death or sticking their heads in ovens. You wake up every day with no guarantee you are making any progress. Even when you think you are making progress, you wake up the next day, read what you wrote, and end up tossing the whole thing out.
Once you do get something published, you are only as good as your next work. But that part is a little exciting. It has built in pressure to perform. That is why you have to come up with potential books all the time so you don’t run out of ideas.
One of my ideas is contingent upon one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller. According to Miller his idea for the still unpublished book is about a nun who takes over small third-world countries by causing their evil dictators to fall in love with her, leaving a trail of megachurches and democracy in her wake. The book was going to be called Sister Democracy, Show Some Leg! I thought it genius so I came up with a sequel with an unexpected twist where the nun is chased all around these countries by the evil dictators who realized they had been taken a fool, and the only way for her to avoid being punished is to cause the megachurch pastors to fall in love with her, create discord, leading to a split of the churches, all while bringing communism back to the countries. It would be titled Sister Communism, Show Some More Leg!
Another reason I like writing is because if you do not want to confront someone of a problem, you can just become bitter and write about them instead. All while sitting behind the comfort of your computer.
Or your Underwood typewriter if you are that person who lets everyone know, they do in fact have an Underwood typewriter. These people usually are not great writers but they can make their bedroom desk look like it was out of an IKEA catalogue. All you need around your Underwood typewriter is a piece of paper hanging out with a Walt Whitman quote, a succulent, and a cup of coffee with steam still rising off the brim.
The Instagram Writer’s Starter Pack: you can get it all for $389. *Likes not included*
Sometimes, you can even make a living off writing out of bitterness. I don’t recommend this per se, however it can be a good first step to overcoming your lack of courage and hopefully will lead you to confront the person or problem in person.
Writing, and especially memoir writing is easy to make a living off of if you have an alcoholic father or were a prisoner at war. Why is this? It is because these stories change our perspective. Most of us had great childhoods and never had to even go overseas unless it was for vacation or a semester abroad to fake Spanish for a semester in Spain. I am not saying these topics are easy to write about. In fact, it takes every ounce out of somebody to write about a childhood experience such as Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle.
Walls recounts her childhood growing up with an extremely intelligent father who is a drunk, and an artistic yet scatterbrained mother. It is a beautiful story of how Walls and her siblings were able to survive decades of living a vagabond lifestyle all across the country not knowing where they were going to live next or what they were going to eat. Often these dilemmas were directly contributed to her parents’ one poor decision after another. In the end however, she learns to forgive her parents for her often traumatic childhood and the book spent more than three years on The New York Times Bestseller list.
Maybe that was what I had to do to be a writer. I had to get busy living a dangerous and exciting life to fill in the chapter’s blank pages. All my favorite books were memoirs of writers who went through hell and back because of they were dirt poor like Rick Bragg or spent years in drug rehab like James Frey.
James Frey got a lot of heat after it was revealed that a lot of his memoir A Million Little Pieces, which recounted his time in a drug rehab facility as a twenty-three year old alcohol and drug abuser, was not factual. This all came out after it was the number one non-fiction paper back on Amazon.com and spent fifteen weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. It is incredible how all this could have been avoided if he just marketed the book as fiction. Either way, I highly recommend Frey’s whether you have a drug problem or not.
The more I thought about a writer and a baptist preacher, they are actually relatively similar once you take out the Bible and the drinking and drug problems.
Each profession requires you to be honest about who you are in hopes that your audience walks away from your message with a better view of who they are and what they may need.
Maybe you have no interest in being a preacher or a writer. I get it. Both can be very lonely at times. But, if you were truly honest with yourself, I think you would want to create some form of value that helps other people around you, all while enjoying it.
You know now what I am talking about.
The only way to discover this is through your authentic voice.
I thought this section would be easiest to illustrate through a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper. Fortunately he had some time this week.
AC: Wait, slow down, you mentioned this somewhere in between talking about the rockets and catholic priests. What exactly is your authentic voice?
QB: Your authentic voice is the little voice inside your brain that tells you to pursue things you actually find enjoyment in, even if it doesn’t make the most sense logically.
AC: Cool, so how do we discover our authentic voices?
QB: First of all, we have to pinpoint where the puppeteers are hiding that make our authentic voices difficult to hear. Like I mentioned earlier, the puppeteers are usually the people around us that influence us in some form that cause us to be driven by fear. Fear of missing out. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of not making enough money.
AC: Who was your puppeteer and where was it hiding?
QB: I think the biggest puppeteer controlling me was the fear of people’s opinions on what I would say through my writing and I didn’t want to put out anything that was less than perfect.
AC: It sounds like you are still wrestling with this puppeteer.
QB: Everyone wrestles with their puppeteers. But yes, I’m mostly waiting for some people to forget about certain events so I can write about them with a clear conscience. Other people, I am waiting till they simply pass away.
AC: That sounds really morbid.
QB: It is, but would you want your career ruined during your life, or die after a book came out?
AC: Fair point.
AC: How can you tell if your authentic voice is really speaking to you?
QB: Your authentic voice is best heard when you are mentally engaged in thinking about or actually involved in that one activity you know you truly enjoy if other people’s opinions did not matter to you. And truthfully, most people’s opinions aren’t worth much.
AC: Kind of like Bill O’Reilly’s?
QB: Let’s stay on topic.
AC: Right. Sorry. So, you get honest with yourself, you find the puppeteers in your life, and start to listen to and grow your authentic voice. When do you arrive at your sehnsucht?
QB: That is the beauty of the sehnsucht. It is never ending. You are never finished. The whole point of the sehnsucht is the process. It is a constant back and forth with the only goal, to put it most simply, of spending your life doing something you enjoy.
AC: Is it too late for me to quit journalism and become a botanist?
QB: No, but I think that might not work out too well.
AC: Are you a puppeteer?
There was one scene that stuck out to me the most from Jeanette Walls’ memoir.
Her father was smoking and drinking while driving the “Green Goose” station wagon on their way to Las Vegas to find another job. Jeanette was in the back seat with her brother Brian. They had just stopped at a bar and bought chocolate candy bars for the children. Rex Walls was quite the loose cannon throughout her story and you never knew what was coming next. Rex began to pick up speed in the station wagon. Just as Jeanette was about to trade her half eaten Mounds bar with Brian’s half eaten Three Musketeers bar, Rex took a sharp turn over some railroad tracks and the station wagon door flew open and Jeanette was thrown out of the car and rolled down an embankment. She wound up with blood flowing from her head while her arms and legs were all scraped up and covered in grit. She still had her Mounds bar, but it was a gooey mess from the tumble paired with the boiling Nevada sun. After waiting several minutes her father, realizing his daughter wasn’t in the car turned around and came to a screeching halt where she was sitting, scraping the dried blood off her legs.
“Damn honey,” Rex said. “You busted your snot locker pretty good.”
I told Brian and Lori and Mom about the word, and they all started laughing as hard as me. Snot locker. It was hilarious.
I think Walls was getting at something more than just a story about her father’s propensity to turn any of his mistakes into an opportunity for his family to roar in laughter despite their circumstances. Maybe I am diving too far in here but I think there is some imagery in this little story.
Much like the Mounds bar and the 3 Musketeers bar, we are always wondering about the “what ifs.” We are always weighing the options around us; where can I make a trade? Can I do better than a Mounds bar? And then we get so caught up in comparing rather than improving. We get so disillusioned by what the puppeteers’ voices are saying, rather than ours, it takes getting flown out of a car for us to wake up to realize, the Mounds bar isn’t so bad.
In fact, it’s our favorite.
Sometimes our lives get so mapped out for us, I think some of us wish for a freak accident. Not because it makes a better sermon, or sells more copies at Barnes and Nobles, but because it forces us to re-evaluate what we do day to day.
Your life is full of choices, but the only choice you don’t have is how many lives you have. So what’s it going to be?
Mounds or Three Musketeers?
Preacher or writer?
Baptist or Catholic?
Whatever you choose, people are going to be a lot more interested in the real you.