I’m in the pew. My bishop in the pulpit.
For those of you not keeping current on your liturgical architecture, “a pew” is a piece of religious furniture upon which the faithful sit during a service of worship. It is a long wooden bench that creaks and groans every time you sit down or rise up from it (at least where I attend.) I think The Ancients deliberately designed pews to be just this side of comfortable so as to reduce the chances of falling asleep during the sermon.
“A pulpit” is this podium thing behind which a preacher stands to preach, knowing there is no greater preaching sin in Christendom than a sermon that puts pilgrims to sleep (see pews).
Thou Shalt Not Be Boring.
Lucky for me and my fellow sojourners, my bishop is never boring. He is rousing and to the razor point. In fact, today, he throws the gauntlet. To all of the faithful, yes; but he makes a point to single out priests for special emphasis.
Which means I’m being singled out. Today, after a 10-year, self-imposed exile, the bishop is here to restore my vocation. To give me my marching orders. Again.
The bishop says the measure of my vocation as a priest is not, repeat not, how many people like me. Rather, the measure is how many people I can invite, nurture and encourage to like each other. How I can facilitate healthy community — a place where a widely diverse group of people can be both different and the same, can agree and disagree, but nonetheless call themselves “family.”
More accurately, to be together, bond together, support and encourage each other, perhaps especially in and through times of grievance, disaffection and estrangement.
When we don’t like each other.
“Stitch them together,” the bishop implores us.
When I’m listening to an inspired preacher, I marvel at how my heart and mind meander. How pictures and associations free flow, rising up to meet the words, sentences and energy of the preacher.
I think of American politics. Ugh.
I think of the death of the statesman (or stateswoman). The orator. The political leader whose job was not to be right, but to persuade me that he or she was right. The political leader whose first task was not to teach me whom to hate and fear, but what ideals and values to love. The political leader whose job was not to teach me whom to vilify; rather, why it was important to expect more from myself as a member of this family called America.
It pops into my mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” (John F. Kennedy)
Then Ronald Reagan comes to mind. The Great Orator, they called him.
As a professional counselor, I study a model of human type/temperament called The Enneagram. Reagan was an “Enneagram 9.” We give these folks the nickname Peacemaker.
It always makes me smile. Only an Enneagram 9 president could name a nuclear missile “the peacekeeper.”
These 9s have a natural instinct to mediate. To make room for diverse points of view. And, even if you are a die-hard Democrat who was in ideological disagreement with most or all of Reagan’s views, you have to admire the way that man, time after time, brought Democrats across the aisle to vote for his ideas. It was astonishing, really. In my political lifetime, I’ve never seen the like of it before or since.
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” my grandmother would say.
And I think of today’s orators, who relentlessly begin so many election campaigns by “postulating an enemy.” As opposed to presupposing (and expecting) the best of a healthy family.
Such tactics trump the possibility of dialogue and “stitching together.” (Yes, pun intended.)
I think of miserable husbands and wives, who have made a deadly habit out of rehearsals of resentment and disaffection. Being right. I think of how my life as a counselor is given to stitch them back together. To remind them that the marriage vow was “I do.” Not “I feel.” And to rejoice with them when they begin to notice that really sublime feelings arise powerfully from the doing of love, attention, nurture, kindness and respect.
I’m reminded of something I often think and sometimes say out loud: When you are lying in hospice, “being right” will not be much company.
It is love that will keep you company.
It is love that is the target. And reconciliation the prize.
—Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Mondays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or email@example.com.