I’ve reached the midpoint of my life. This is the time when guys get sports cars, a young girlfriend, and wear gold chains nestled among their chest hair (at least, according to chick lit). I’ve never been into cars (I’ve driven the same one for thirteen years). I’ve got very little chest hair (probably more info than you needed to know). Middle-aged guys with college-age girlfriends are just flat creepy.
However, I am asking a lot of the same questions men ask as they approach forty (next year for me). I’m undergoing some significant life changes and struggles. I’ve chronicled my biggest one here, as a I stepped down from being an ordained Presbyterian minister back in April.
Many people are asking me, “What are you going to do now? Where will you go to church? What is your future going to be like? What is the rest of your life going to be about?”
My answers? I really don’t know other than I want to be a writer, and I still hold without reservation to The Nicene Creed. As a writer, I feel the need to share this in hopes that it might be helpful to some people. That’s what writers do, you see. We think if we write about our own personal struggles, people will read it. Even more hubristic, we think our struggles might help others. We’re kinda self centered that way.
I’m calling these little musings, “My Fragmented Life.”
Honestly, I don’t know if my sorting through fragments will help anyone in their faith journey or any other journey. At thirty-nine years old, I’ve long lost faith that I can really help anyone as much as I still try. Still, I must follow the obscene impulse to expose my thoughts to the world so everyone can examine them. Use what you can. Discard what you can’t. Laugh at what seems absurd.
In order to do that, I’m going back to my childhood. Now, at first glance, that seems like a mid-life crisis thing to do. Maybe it is. I’ve just found that when I get in a knot, I’ve got to find the beginning of the thread. I’ve decided to scrap it all and go right back to being a small, scrawny, friendless kid growing up in the farm fields of Southern Indiana.
Today, I thought about two of my earliest memories. I loved Superman. Still do. As a kid, I had everything Superman, including a really cool six-foot Superman puzzle. That thing was epic, let me tell you. Imagine a six-foot image of the Son of Krypton, hands on his hips, giving a perfect smile from the floor of my parents farmhouse. I could even lay claim to the largest collection of Superman .45’s in western Southern Indiana (stats not verifiable). When I didn’t listen to Cardinal baseball at night, I fell asleep to the Man of Steel saving Lois Lane.
See, I’ve always carried a deep seeded desire to save people. I wanted to be Superman and help others. I would even argue it’s part of the Image of God in us. Still, I seemed to be (and still am) a very sensitive person. Everything bad upset me, especially if it happened to other people. A girl I knew in town (Haubstadt, Indiana), got hit by a car. I didn’t know her that well, but I cried when I heard the news. She turned out only to have a broken leg, but I remember sitting in our old wooden barn, my own “fortress of solitude,” and feeling helpless. I remembering praying for her with tears running down my cheeks.
Then there was the time a teacher of mine got smacked in the face with a baseball. I was inconsolable as teachers tried to calm me down.
You are probably thinking, “Yeah, well, that just makes you a pansy.” Maybe, but I couldn’t help it. I have always had a strong sense of compassion, feeling EVERYTHING very deeply. Most of my early memories are emotions rather than fully thought out mental images.
This deep seeded emotional life got a bit neurotic and strange. As a kid growing up in the Catholic Church, I even felt this sort of sadness about Jesus on the cross. One day, when I was a child, I laid down on a cross beam of wood and spread out my arms. I felt the wood scratching my neck. I wondered what it would be like to feel the nails in your wrists. I got an overwhelming sense of sadness, sorrow and pain. Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined what Jesus went through, giving Himself up for the whole world.
All of this made me want to help people, to love people and to pour out my life for them. What I didn’t recognize, and wouldn’t for a long time, is my deep seeded desire to be liked. As a kid, I didn’t exactly have friends lining up at my door. I thought if I strove hard to help people, they would like me. If I strove to be Superman, people would adore me. Secretly, I thought I could be like Jesus and save people. When I did, they would be my friends.
Fast forward to my days in seminary. My inclination when I started my studies was to get my Ph.D. and teach. I figured I was best suited for a life of reading and teaching. I knew deep down I probably didn’t have what it took to be a minister. Still, the desire to be Superman/Jesus rose up, fueled by comments from professors, pastors, and church people. They kept telling me, “You should be a pastor, you have a pastor’s heart. You can help people.” Combine that with my need not only to be liked, but to be like Jesus and save others, I couldn’t resist the temptation.
My ministerial career, while not an absolute failure, didn’t really work for most people. I didn’t save them. I just made them angry when I didn’t fulfill their expectations. I got mopey when I realized I couldn’t meet my own. Even more,” the pastoral system,” as I call it, the system that drives people to ministry didn’t help as it fueled my Jesus/Superman complex.
So, about a year ago, I got tired of the whole thing. I got tired of people’s unrealistic expectations of me as a minister. I got tired of my own deep seeded Superman/Jesus complex, and I let go of it. I let go of my own sin. I let go of the ministerial system that chews up people, spits them out, and leaves them to rot on the roadside. I don’t blame this system, I blame myself for being a participant in it. (More on this system in later writings.) I blame myself because of my own deep seeded Jesus complex. When I let go of it, everything came unraveled. My whole identity fell apart because it was based on something rotten. In its place is someone who is a fully flawed human being who still loves Jesus. I like that a lot better than needing to “be” Jesus. I’ve fully and deeply embraced the idea that I cant’ save anyone. I’m not an un-corrupted Superman.
The problem is, now, I don’t know what path to take. I don’t know what way The Lord is leading me. All I know is, for the first time in a while, I feel like I’ve joined the human race. That thought, above all, is liberating, because Our Lord is a member of the human race. I think in becoming more human, I can be saved by the True Human, Christ Himself.