Earthquakes, CRM, and Other Disasters

Tragedy makes us nervous. We don’t know what to say, but we want to say something. Invariably, we say something stupid. Lost a loved one? “I know how you feel.” (No, you don’t.) Had a house fire? “It was the gods will.” (Then your god is a jerk.)

In seminary, Pastor’s are trained not to do this. No matter how many similar things you may have gone through, you don’t know how a person feels when they have lost a loved one, had a house fire, or even chipped a fingernail. Their feelings are uniquely theirs. They are not yours. Similarly, no matter how true it may be that the gods willed this fire/tornado/flood, etc., telling someone who has just lost everything that God wanted them to lose everything comes across in that moment as God not really caring about them. Perhaps later they will see how it was God’s loving discipline. But saying it in the moment is as effective as spanking a child and saying, “I’m doing this because I love you.” Odds are, the child doesn’t believe you at that moment, and you saying it doesn’t really help the situation.

I have seen similar things said to men on CRM, by pastors who should simply know better. But the problem is, pastors don’t know what to say. They want to say something to help, to encourage, to push these poor men along in their spiritual struggles, to help them properly understand how it all fits together. And pastors often, when speaking to each other, offer “advice of the detached”. We call it casuistry. In the parish we may have problems or situations where the right course is difficult to determine. Advice from other pastors can help to resolve this. They are not emotionally invested, and so can offer objective advice from God’s word and from the realm of human wisdom. But pastors need to not do this when speaking to men (and their families) on CRM. There are two reasons.

1) Pastors are not objective detached observers. They are scared that the same thing might happen to them.

2) Pastors are not offering advice to someone trying to figure things out in an academic way. They are speaking to men (and their families) who are suffering.

This means that invariably, the advice offered is actually not the least bit comforting.

And those who are in positions of authority in our synod are even more removed from the situation. They have no idea how their words sound to these men, because they can not comprehend the depth of suffering involved.

So, in order to help our pastors train themselves not to say things that only cause more pain, here are a few common things that are said, that make the situation worse:

1) In God’s time. This is the CRM equivalent of “It’s God’s will.” If I am suffering, and he just sits there and watches for a while, the message I get from you is “God is a jerk.” Please don’t call God a jerk. I am having enough trouble with my faith right now.

2) You need to be patient. Try that one on your next hospital call with someone who is waiting for the morphine. This is a variant of the previous one, except now *I* am the problem. I don’t need law. I get it every time I try and buy food, gas, pay the rent, look at my children at the dinner table.

3) The process is slow, but it works. No, it doesn’t. If it worked, I wouldn’t be on food stamps. I wouldn’t need to cry once a day because I feel like a bad provider. I wouldn’t need to listen to my wife crying because she sees how this is destroying me. My kids wouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around me because they are afraid I might be in one of those moods I am always in now, and I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for all the times I yell at them for things that are not their fault. If the process is working, then the problem is me. I am the one who is broken, and I don’t need you telling me that. I can see it already.

4) It’s an opportunity to step up and support each other in the family. Yes, and the sinking of the Titanic was an opportunity for the band to play “Nearer My God to Thee.” But I’m pretty sure that’s not really the main point, is it. And in the day to day grind of suffering, when we are already working extra hard to try and support each other, we don’t need you telling us to just work harder. We’re already working harder than we ever thought possible.

The truth is, the evolution of Candidate Status into what it is today is an evil, evil thing. A recent post on the synod’s website says that they have solicited reasons that pastors may end up on Candidate status. Strangely missing from the list? “They were trying to be faithful in their pastoral practice and the congregation simply would not stand for it.” Now, that is not the reason in every case. But until we admit that it is a problem in some cases, the list is woefully inadequate. And the even broader “removed or forced to resign for reasons that are not listed in scripture” needs to be addressed as well.

Of course, in a synod press release we should not expect such things to be admitted freely. But if the committee is not confronting the reality of the situation behind closed doors, and if the solution deals only with the problems listed in the press release, then any proposed solution will be no better than the do-not-say-them statements listed above.

We wait, and we pray that this is not the case.

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