It Happened

Today concluded a weird confluence of happenings and feelings:

  1. Nora and I finally watched Bo Burnham’s Inside special, which received two comments from us: I said it definitely came from a very specific time and place, Nora said the setting looked like our living room those first few months of the pandemic. We both had feelings.
  2. The Exegesis Ordination Exam for Winter 2023 was on Judges 19, which I have not spoken publicly on because I have nothing to add that wiser voices have not already said, but today the PCC held their plenary to discuss the exam and their response to the public outcry. Listening to some of the committee members brought back all of the rage and frustration (and trauma) from my ordination process.
  3. Today the first letter I wrote to my previous congregation about the pandemic came up in my Facebook memories. I reread it this morning and realized I could see glimpses of the end of that chapter of my ministry in that first letter.

I have thought about this tweet a lot recently.

For Context, in Infinity War, Thanos snaps half of the world’s population out of existence, and then in End Game everyone comes back somehow…?…not an MCU person; I know the theory, not the practice…

After watching Inside, thinking about how that special only happens at that exact time, I said something like, “Everyone just seems to be pretending the collective trauma we went through did not happen, like none of it actually happened…” Every day it seems like we have decided collectively — including the church — to try to regain what we had before and, by going backward, make the trauma not matter anymore.

This happens a lot, I have realized, and with all kinds of trauma, collective and personal. I remember the day I finally got the magical “Rev.” behind my name. At the time I could not name it because every emotion of seven years came flowing out in my tears, but now I think to myself, “How hopelessly pointless was most of that time?”

I cannot publicly talk about what the gatekeepers said to me in meetings, how others just watched it happened and expected me to endure more than pastors endure without any sort of support (I have experienced this as an Inquirer/Candidate and as a pastor; the preparation process hurt worse and felt so much more isolating), how they justified their treatment of me and called it holy, nor how many times I prayed to God to give me a different calling so I could leave the toxicity and have my heart back. I can only say it did not serve to prepare or support me; it only served to gatekeep me and push me away — and, failing that, demand I pretend it was fine.

But that day I had the title, so I never had to deal with the process or my home presbytery again, so I needed to just move on and not live in the past.

With the pandemic, with the ordination process, with my childhood trauma, I so often just want to scream, “It happened! It was real! Stop gaslighting me in to thinking everything was okay and I didn’t experience this! And let me speak the whole truth about it!”

All of it happened. And it was all bad. Some of it threatened me, threatened God’s call for me, or threatened my marriage, and the virus took the most innocent of us.

It happened.

And your trauma happened, too.

Why do we allow the world, society, and especially the church to demand we swallow our trauma and never speak of it, and especially never name names or specifics of what happened? I get why we do not say it out loud — trust me when I say I get it — but why do we continue to allow the church, a place instructed by Christ to reveal our fullness with the completeness of surgical lights instead of hiding in the shadows of denial and falsehood, demand we swallow our trauma if others do not want to help us bear it and find it too heavy for polite company?

Or, if we have a bit more fire in our bellies, why do we keep calling institutions that prop up that attitude “the church” and “The Body of Christ” instead of calling them the social clubs and

It happened. It happened to me, and it happened to you. May we find the spaces that will allow us to say “It happened…” and to say exactly what “it” is* for each of us.

And maybe someday our churches will always serve as that space for everyone within its walls.

– Robby

* Yes, I know this brings up Bill Clinton vibes; sorry…

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