Tuesday, July 05, 2005

High Anxiety

About a month ago, I was sitting in my office typing away, when, out of no where, my chest started pounding, electrical energy ran through my limbs, and my breath became short.

“My God, I’m only 35 and I’m having a heart attack!” I thought to myself.

A half hour and a shot of sherry later, I calmed down.

On Father's Day, during Sunday morning worship, I was giving the post-communion blessing, and BAM(!), it hit me again. I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt like a bass drum, and my limbs felt like I’d been zapped with a stun gun.

Over the next few days (and many nights) it happened over and over again. I made short work of that bottle of sherry that I keep in my desk.

My wife suggested that I call the employee assistance folks. It’s covered by our health plan, so it wouldn’t cost me anything.

What have I got to lose? I called the number.

They had me see someone that same day.

Not a doctor, but a counselor. It turns out they have a name for those episodes I’d been having – “Anxiety Attacks.”

“Boy, that’s a first,” I thought to myself. I’m usually pretty cucumber like.

The counselor and I chatted about possible causes.

Not sleeping? No.
Eating right? Tofu, baby. And lots of it!
Exercise much? Does walking back and forth to the coffee pot count?
Stress in your life? Well, I’m a pastor of a busy church, my denomination is about to implode over the same-sex blessing issue, I receive emails and letters from conservative extremists who suggest I’m going to hell if I even talk nicely with “liberals,” my daughter is still not sleeping through the night, my wife is feeling personally attacked by folks because her brother is gay, and sermon writing is becoming increasingly more difficult because I can’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time.

So, yeah, I feel a little bit of stress.

This guy was good. No touchy-feely stuff. He didn’t prescribe bubble baths with scented candles while listening to Enya. He didn’t say to remove the stress from my life. He just gave me strategies on how to handle it better.

“Plus,” he said, “lay off the booze. Self-medication doesn’t help.”

A great guy remedy.

So now I’m writing down the frequency and intensity of each attack in a log. For a while, I thought they’d stopped. Great! Life resumed.

Then I checked my mail yesterday and found this: A Declaration of Selective Fellowship, and an invitation to sign it. Just the name gives me the creeps. It stinks of elitism and rank self-righteousness.

These folks – churches, pastors, councils, etc - will not fellowship with anyone (what ever that means) who supports the resolution allowing for congregations to decide whether or not they will perform same-sex blessings. They will not financially support any ministries that welcome gays and lesbians. They signed a declaration saying this.

I recognized many of the signatories - the usual suspects. But my old seminary room mate also had signed.

Jesus wept.

Its no wonder my gay brother-in-law doesn’t go to church. They hate him there. But of course they cloak it in the “love the sinner hate the sin” nonsense, which is often Christian shorthand for, “hate the sinner because of the sin.”

Church should be a resting place for the weary, a sanctuary for the oppressed, a place of healing and restoration for the broken. The church should be a place of welcome and freedom. The church should be the great leveller; a place where we remember that we are ALL sinners; that we’re all in the same boat; that none of us is righteous on our own.

Church should be a place of celebration that God love us, because there is too much hatred, anger, competition, cruelty, ache, judgment, and nastiness in the world and in people. People come to church searching for good news. Sadly, many gays and lesbians leave church feeling more abused than when they walked in. There was no good news for them to hear.

Thankfully, my congregation is a place where good news is shared freely. This is not to say that same-sex blessings is not a controverial issue here. But these are grown-up Christians. They know that baptism trumps politics. They know that gays and lesbians are people, not sin personified. Many of them may have moral qualms about homosexuality, but you dare not make a homophobic remark around them. They won't tolerate bigotry.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that I’ve landed among these faithful and caring people. I get paid the big bucks to show people who God is. But they’ve done a better job showing me where God is most joyfully and powerfully alive.

I love the church. I love Jesus’ message. I think ordinary Christians working together can be the hope of the world.

But I grieve that these Selective Fellowship folks may feel compelled to divert my church’s energies to silly ecclesiastical politicking. I lament the suffering that such anger is causing. I mourn the inevitable loss of relationships that will occur if these people decide they are leaving the denomination.

So, my anxiety attacks have returned. In fact, I had a doozey this morning. It’s been duly recorded in my log.

I just pray that we’ll see God’s hand of reconciliation work among us – a fractious, divided, hurting, lot. And may we have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing among us.


Mike said...

If it helps with the attacks, you are doing the right thing. Anybody can jump on the safety of a bandwagon and support the status quo, but real courage and real love and real faith mean taking risks and stepping out side the safety zone. You are showing that courage. I know it. Everyone who reads you regularly knows it.

You are acting like a guy I read about when I was a kid, in Sunday school. Now what was his name again...;)

And that's ok, becaue he is one of the role models for us all.

In the years to come, you will be remembered for your compassion and sought for your wisdom while those on the list will be, unfortunately, ridiculed and forgotten. Perhaps you should talk to your old roommate over coffee? He may need a little guidance...

Psychols said...

What could I add that Mike has not already said so eloquently. You work so hard to provide the spiritual leadership to help your community through this issue and suffer a physical toll.

Selective fellowship is disturbing - sounds like the voice of a few misguided individuals who have bought into the typical false dichotomy. I can understand your disappointment at seeing your old room mate's signature and hope that most churches will work diligently to discourage this type of divisive declaration.

Benjamin said...

The number of times I've actually seen honest Christ-like compassion is sadly small, but I definitely saw it here. Thanks for writing that.

Saheli said...

He didn’t prescribe bubble baths with scented candles while listening to Enya.

*shudders*. . .let us be thankful for small mercies, eh?

Breathe. More gentle excercise, with deep breathing, less coffee. I don't know what I'm doing, writing you this comment in the middle of an all nighter, like I'm some bastion of calm, but my anxiety is relatively self-inflicted and deserved. But you're driving up the price of sherry for the rest of us!

Seriously. You work hard, you're necessary. Regarding the Why you feel compelled to give so much obedience and service, you've also got to remember is a good why for your own health and well-being. So please take care of yourself.

For what it's worth: my prayers for you and your health and your wife and brother and wakeful daughter. . . . .

Mike said...


You may actually find some Zen meditation very helpful as well.

And don't worry, it won't make you a Buddhist ;)

Steve Bogner said...

Take care of yourself! That line about exercise resonated with me though... I dont' get much exercise at all.

If it's any consolation, we have similar issues in Catholicism. I'm amazed at the us-against-them attitudes that can develop in a church, in a parish.

Kevin said...

Thanks, everyone, for your helpful suggestions and kind encouragement.

I've been taking it easy lately, spending time in study, getting more exercise, and eating better (at least cutting back on the caffeine. The coffee maker at the church broke - providence?)


Ono said...

You are in my prayers Rev.

Meg said...

Kevin, thank you for your post.

This is such a hard thing.

I've been wishing Christians could find common ground on this. I think there are people who are on both sides of the issue who arrive at their position through sincere biblical study. How can we who differ respect each other's determination to come to a biblical conclusion and move forward together?

But it's so complicated because of the marriage question. That really ups the ante.

I struggled with depression through the last election season and for a while afterward. Blogging has helped. Distancing myself from flag-wavers and associating with more level-headed Christians has helped. A less isolating work situation has helped. And now I'm dipping my toes in the freelance writing pool. That, I think, is going to help too.

Your writing is beautiful and your message is important. I would be so pleased to read it in a magazine.


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