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December 22, 2012

Spiritual and Personal Wellness

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

Last night, I spent a long while talking with someone who was trying to pick what is left of my theological brain as Advent prepares to give birth to Christmas. Knowing that my schedule both in and out of church is rather full, my conversation Friday night tried to squeeze out whatever mental juices remained following days of reading, writing, translating, and complaining. The question that fueled my hours-long talk was somewhat basic that is paraphrased as follows:

“Listen, I get the idea that pastors are supposed to ‘tend their flocks’ and feed them Christ, but does it also mean that a pastor is supposed to tend to those under his care and give counsel for their lives?”

Or to put it in more direct terms — where does pastoral spiritual care end and life counseling begin?

This topic came up as we talked about yesterday’s National Rifle Association press conference where their president laid out a challenge to the nation, and I don’t mean the idiotic “put an armed guard in every school” idea. Simply put: Does our culture bare some responsibility for the callousness of society? Do violent video games and movies and other forms of entertainment play a role in giving off the impression that death and murder is OK?

This is a notion that the entertainment industry rejects, saying that personal freedom to create violent movies doesn’t mean people have to go see them. I agree — if a movie glorifies murder, then first of all, I don’t have to go spend money to see it; second, I realize it is only a movie.

But does all this glorification of death and violence do something to us in our minds? Does this vulgarity of violence cause a kind of callous to be built inside of us after seeing so many “deaths” and “killings” in video games we play and movies we go to see? I believe it does. After a while, it becomes a kind of second nature to us. We may wince at the first ‘bad thing’ we see; in time, and after seeing more and more of it, visualizing these ‘bad things’ becomes easier on our hearts.

For me, this comes up all the time. Being a pastor, death and pain is just part of my life. I am around it all them. As a pastor, the first time I was in a room when someone died, my heart was heavy for days. Now, I consider it “part of my job” and deal with it.

But what about children and teens? They play video games that glorify death by making it seem almost easy and painless. Regardless of what the NRA promoted yesterday, the topic of the glorification of violence in our society and culture must be discussed and seriously debated.

My conversation last night took a more ‘pastoral’ turn as I brought up the importance of strong role models in society. I believe our leaders — not just politicians, but leaders in homes, schools, business, and society — need to present a better outlook, a more positive expression of the Godly life. Of course, our biggest problem as a people that in order for this to occur, we need to discuss the struggle against sin. Sadly, last night we didn’t really tackle this too much.

So the question I mentioned above came into play: How does a pastor play a more positive role in guiding the lives of those within his church? Of course, the first thing a pastor must do is to work to curb sinful inhibitions, restraining those impulses to present a more positive expression of Godly life.

Does a pastor have the right to tell members of his church to exercise better control over what they put into their bodies? What about telling them they should invest their money in companies that provide not just a good return, but also that they are good neighbors? If a member of a church beats his children, then does a pastor have the obligation to do everything within his power to stop it? What if a member of a church drinks too much — does a pastor have the obligation to lead that person away from too much alcohol?

Of course, those are just a few questions that popped into my mind early on a Saturday morning. The premise that was raised last night is that a man who stands in the stead of God should do all that he can to not just preach Christ crucified, but also to exemplify a good Godly life, and not just that he knows the bible and can recite passages every now and then.

But should a pastor be fat? Does having a pastor who is obese present a bad example to his flock? If our bodies are to be God’s temple, is having a pastor whose belt needs extra holes to buckle it closed showing church members that it doesn’t matter if you eat to excess and don’t exercise and treat your bodies with care?

Should a pastor drink moderate amounts of alcohol? What about going into a bar for a drink with friends? Is this giving off an example that alcohol is fine in all aspects of life?

What about a messy desk? Is a pastor showing a bad example to others if his church office desk is disheveled and files are piling up?

As I raised last night, it is not just in the pastoral role should the idea of personal responsibility and life wellness important. Should our elected officials not just be above reproach, but also that they, too, not be overweight and never drink? What about school teachers? Doctors? Firefighters? Librarians? Bank workers? Mothers and fathers?

Doing things that can be considered ‘not right’ within the public square is something that all pastors need to constantly reflect upon. Our church body tries to provide a greater understanding of whole life wellness for members of the clergy. They encourage us to take care of ourselves and promote a solid public image.

But none of us are perfect. None of us fit the cultural ideal of perfection. Yet we pastors struggle to be better  than the day before … we fight the internal urges to sin, but sadly, the weakness of human flesh wins out many times.

Last night’s discussion really laid bare some of my own life faults that need fixing.

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