The thing about pastors is, we're human, too. We're actually no different from the people who sit in the pews of churches. We just have a different view on Sunday mornings.
Any pastor who tells you they've never doubted God is either lying or has a faith not worth trusting, in my humble opinion.
Any pastor who pretends they never have evil thoughts is full of shit.
I am not a nice person, but I like to believe I am incredibly kind.
Today, I may not even be all that kind; in reality, as a child in early elementary school, I was not all that kind. I was angry and violent a lot of the time.
Things changed when I was ten. There are reasons for the change, but I'll not go into those now. Suffice it to say the rage and violence remained, but I chose to direct them inward rather than outward. It took a very long time for the violence to end and the rage to dissipate and healing and joy to take their place again.
Two years before the change, however, there was one boy in my third grade class. His name was Andrew. This is the only time in this blog I will ever use a real name.
I do not remember Andrew's last name, but I was mean and hateful and cruel to him. For many years now I've wished I could look him up, find him, and apologize for the way I treated him. I carry the shame of my childhood sins with me.
But that is not what this post is about. This post is about this morning.
The thing about being a pastor is you end up on everybody's email list. Every church you've ever served, every church you've ever attended, every church you've ever preached at. They all get you on the roster, and the roster never gets cleaned out.
I received an email this morning from the church I grew up in. A young man passed away this weekend. He was thirty-four years old.
And I thought to myself that the world had become a kinder and gentler place with his passing.
This man was a year ahead of me in school. He was cruel to me. Not in the same ways I was cruel to Andrew, but in other ways. Constant torment and verbal abuse that was ignored by the adults in every setting.
He largely ignored me at church, but during the summers, he and his step-siblings would dunk me in the pool and hold me under water, they would taunt me about being an overweight kid from a dysfunctional and incredibly impoverished family. The lifeguards did nothing but tell me that if I didn't want to be picked on, I should go on a diet and not be so fat. The pool management said the same thing.
During the school year I only had interactions with him on the playground because he was a year ahead of me. That is until we were both transferred to a different school district some 20 miles away.
I tried to think kindly of him. He had a physical disability and came from a family not much different than my own, though perhaps slightly more well off. I didn't like the way he treated me, but I couldn't bring myself to be cruel to him. I couldn't bring myself to be cruel about him. Mostly, I just felt sorry for him, because I knew what had caused me to become an angry, bitter, violent five year old.
This all changed one day on the way home from school. There were three of us being bused from our district to the district up north. We rode in a white minivan with "SCHOOL BUS" magnets on the panels of the van.
This particular day, this boy had ridden to school, but he was nowhere to be seen in the bus on the way home from school. I asked about his very noticeable absence, and was told by the driver that he'd gotten sick at school and gone home early.
I genuinely hoped he was okay.
Then, the 25 minute ride home. I was grilled relentlessly about how I felt about this boy. I was goaded and picked at and pressured to say terrible, mean, hateful, hurtful things about him. Repeatedly I was asked, "But you really hate him, don't you? You think he's terrible, don't you?" These questions were asked by the third student and the bus driver, a woman in her late 40s.
I had never thought such things about him and I said so.
The onslaught of questions continued, but I heard a scuttling on the floor and looked under the seats. There he was, this boy of eleven, who had conspired to get me to say terrible things about him; there was the bus driver, a grown woman with adult children of her own, colluding to make a fool of me.
"It was just a joke," they said, trying to pass off their horrendous behavior as something we could all laugh about.
But it wasn't a joke when I was pressed into saying thing I hadn't thought - until that moment; when it was demanded that I admit to feelings that I did not have - until that moment.
I wasn't so angry with this boy or our fellow student for their stupid and childish prank as I was with the bus driver, a grown adult who sought to humiliate me, who intentionally created circumstances and participated in behaviors designed to trap me into saying something they could use against me later, an adult who was supposed to be a safe person, who had insisted this bus was a safe space, and who violated that safety with trickery and abuse.
I exploded when I got home and screamed at her about what a vile and disgusting human being she was.
As for this boy and the third student, I cried a bit. I couldn't understand their betrayal. Weren't we all in this together? Hadn't we all been kicked out of one school to be bused to another, one with more resources for "problem children" like us? Why was I the one singled out as the object of torment and insult? Weren't we all struggling with similar things?
The next day we had a new driver, the adult son of original driver who gave me an earful about how disrespectful my behavior toward his mother had been. I laughed in his face. Defending myself was not disrespectful. What she had done was disrespectful.
I read on the bus from then on and refused to speak to either this boy, the other student, or the new driver who continued to pick us up and drop us off for the remainder of the year.
But I never forgot that experience.
Some years later, while I was in seminary, the new pastor at my church mentioned that this boy, now a grown man, was in a facility, got precious few visitors, and since I was in the area often, it would probably be appreciated if I stopped by.
I never did. I didn't owe him anything.
This morning, I wanted to feel compassion. He's someone's son. He's someone's brother. He's someone's uncle. I thought briefly of sending my condolences to his family, telling them I'm sorry for their loss. But I'm not sorry.
And I do not feel compassion.
I feel relief, because my world feels a little safer and a little kinder without him in it.