Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pastors and sabbaticals

June 21, 2014

The curse of ingratitude

By Tom Ehrich
Pop quiz.

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7.  Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what a pastor heard the other day:  "Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can't take working for a living."

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don't deserve, and you are lazy.

What do you do?

I read this comment on Facebook and was stunned. It reminded me of comments I heard during my parish ministry. It echoed comments other clergy report. I was stunned again at how casually cruel some people can be toward their pastors.

And saddened. Saddened for this pastor, who now must suck it up, look beyond the rudeness and be there for this arrogant twit when he needs care and doesn't hesitate to demand it. And saddened for the rude man, because he is receiving so much and doesn't realize it. How much else of God's love for him is he failing to see?

Churches die for many reasons, from bad leadership decisions to bad luck to poor execution of programs and ideas. One reason they die is ingratitude. Like the ingratitude of the man who thought himself so clever and analytical when he dismissed his pastor's request for a sabbatical.

Families die for the same reason. When spouses take each other for granted, or when one partner does all the giving, or when children take ceaselessly and feel entitled to more, even the sturdiest family crumbles.

Enterprises die when bosses demand but don't thank, when executives feel entitled to extravagant salaries, denounce underlings seeking better minimum wages, and lobby hard to deprive workers of the very benefits they take for granted.

Societies die for ingratitude, too. The social contract shreds when those who have much feel entitled to more, not grateful for what they have. Suffering and resentment breed when the wealthy give no thought to leaving the edges of the field unharvested for others to glean, and when they consider themselves superior human beings for the good luck of being born into privilege.

I am going to guess that the man who dissed his pastor is a moderately successful professional or businessman, who thinks his comfortable paycheck signifies wisdom. He lives within the common delusion that he earned it all, no matter how many contributed to his success, not to mention the role of luck.

This is the profile of ingratitude: someone who measures himself against others, takes satisfaction in having more, gives all the credit to himself, sees little of the web of interactions that underlie any success, lords it over the have-nots as inadequate persons, and feels entitled to be as rude and selfish as he likes.

What should the pastor say to him?

The safe response is nothing. The power imbalance is too great.

The Gospel response is something riskier: "When you have need, I am there for you. Now I have need, and I expect you to be there for me."
Fresh words!
Fresh voices!
Fresh ideas!

Fresh Day!


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