“Words are powerful; they create our reality.” — Rev. Jerri Handy
As I was having lunch with friends at seminary today, I heard some things in the conversation that gave me pause.
One comment was in terms of “giving. We plan our giving around our budgets, instead of planning our budgets around our giving.” This struck me as indicative of great privilege.
What of poor or unemployed persons (I am among the latter) who worship with faith communities? What of underemployed or those on a fixed income? What can I personally tithe? Well, ten percent of my income, $0.00, is still $0.00. But there have been times in my past where if I had tithed a full ten percent, it would mean no food for a week or not making rent.
A similar statement was made with regards to time for our spiritual well-being. The same person who made the above statement about giving, we’ll call this person -B-, said, “We plan our time for GOD around our schedule, instead of planning our schedule around time for GOD.” Both of -B-‘s statements were aimed at clergy and laity alike. But as with the comment about giving, the comment about time shows a certain amount of privilege. What of those who work long hours or multiple jobs to support themselves and their loved ones? -B- is currently gainfully employed and attending seminary part time. -B- has both time and money to spend.
Part of the problem here is the casual use of language. Who is the “our” regarding budgets and giving? Who is the “we” regarding schedules and time for GOD? Perhaps I could have taken -B-‘s words more seriously if different language had been used. Instead of the all-inclusive pronouns “our” and “we,” phrases such as “there are persons who” might have been a better choice. This wording allows for variances in ability. And since all of this took place during a conversation about burn out among both clergy and laypersons who serve congregations, a more precise use of language is probably necessary.
I’m in my second semester of seminary. I don’t have answers to these issues yet. Even then, answers I may eventually come up with will not necessarily apply to all persons in these cases. But we as clergy in training must be careful of the words we use when speaking to, with, and in our faith communities. If our laity is getting burnt out, telling them they need to adjust their priorities to serve the community that should be supporting them seems to be counter-productive.