I Love/Hate My Voice

I have a naturally loud voice.  Just…loud.  As a kid I could never automatically speak in an “inside voice”; it always required conscious modulation.  I constantly got told, “Be quieter!  Talk quieter!  Use your ‘inside voice’!”  Constant, unending admonitions to “be quieter” when I simply used the voice God gave me.

It constantly frustrated me.  I wanted to behave and yet I always failed at this despite doing nothing actually wrong.  Being constantly corrected for my natural voice just made me feel broken in some way.  Obviously I could not articulate that at the time, but it wears on a person to constantly hear that they have to change something inherent about themselves to fit into the requirements for a particular group.

(Sound familiar?  Judging a person based on their inherent qualities?  Trying to correct and punish away the way God made a person?)

As I grew up and matured, I figured out how to “automatically” modulate my volume to a situationally-appropriate level.  I quote “automatically” because any time I would get excited, get frustrated, get anything other than normal, that modulation would disappear and my natural volume level would come back.  And someone would always pop up to make sure I know I got “too loud” and I needed “be quieter.”

I experienced this well into adulthood.  Occasionally my loud voice would benefit me – I always enjoyed public speaking and, for a time, theater, two areas my strong voice served as a boon – but usually I had to consciously make sure my voice never got too loud.  And I failed constantly; I could never verbally communicate “behind the scenes” in a play without someone hearing me that should not hear me.

Oh, and you cannot convince people you are shy and self-conscious when you always have a strong voice.  Unless I actively have tears streaming out of my eyes, my voice does not waiver.  I get anxious and nervous, and I feel the physical manifestations of those emotions, but my voice does not show it.

Seminary did something magical for me: it made my voice good.  Not to say the majority of people wanted to hear my words or my opinions, but my physical voice suddenly became an actual asset to my life and ministry.  I can speak in front of a group of people in my natural voice – at its natural volume – and those people can generally hear and understand me without a microphone.

Despite that, though, I still had people tell me that I needed to “be quieter.”  Honestly, any time I get excited, someone will tell me I am too loud because the volume modulation still goes away when I focus on my excitement instead of my properness.

I am 32 years old.  I have been ordained for nearly two years, graduated from seminary for six years, and I still have friends and colleagues tell me I am too loud whenever I get excited.

I recently had this happen three times in the course of a month, and I realized how much it hurts to get excited and have someone, every time, tell you that you are too loud.

One has stuck with me and probably why I spent time thinking about it.  I went to a retreat and learning program (CREDO for Presbyterian and Episcopal folks) and one of the facilitators gave an amazing sermon.  I think everything happened the next evening during fellowship with drinks.  The facilitator was immediately behind me at a different table and the conversation around my table moved to how great of a sermon she gifted us with.

I wanted to tell her and had not had a chance to, so I turned around in my excitement and, with my unmodulated voice – excitement and a couple of drinks contributing – went to tell her that I really appreciated her sermon.

Obvious my loud voice startled her because…well, because and I cannot judge anyone for my voice and mannerisms startling them.  The comment made was, “How does it feel to be yelled at by a bearded, white man?”

I simply wanted to tell a colleague that I appreciated the gift of her sermon and instead I became a bearded white man yelling at an Asian woman.

I do not necessarily begrudge anyone for how it played out – I am also awkward and having my unmodulated voice unexpectedly put in your direction is probably startling – but it hurts when you get told that your expression of excitement is unacceptable and every verbalized moment of excitement or energy gets deflated.

I try to tell myself I love my voice.  When I step into a pulpit – physical or metaphorical – I do not worry about the physical voice that needs to come from within me.  People understand the words that come out of my mouth.  I have never lost my physical voice.

But I actually find myself hating it more than loving it.  I hate that my frustration and exacerbation get heard as rage and fury.  I hate that I cannot verbalize my excitement and actually speak into my energy.  I hate that I am 32 years old and I still do not have a quiet enough voice for my friends and colleagues.  I hate that I have to modulate my voice in every conversation, even if I can do it automatically 80% of the time.

And I hate having a loud voice when I simply want to be heard in a conversation and not seen as trying to dominate the conversation, and I want people to understand that my soul’s voice often refuses to speak.

If I can offer an aside: when a child loudly brings you their excitement, maybe we find a way to just focus on the excitement instead of deflating it to reduce its physical volume.  I do not think you need to allow kids to scream, but some kids just have a loud voice and telling them that their natural voice is bad will follow them into their adulthood.

Just a thought.

Peace,
– Robby

I Want to Be a Sheep

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.

– John 10:14-15 CEB

(Heads up: this blog has always been a place for me to be vulnerable in a public and controlled way.  This is one of those posts where I’m a bit more vulnerable [read: whiny] than is probably healthy, but as far as I know there is a point in there, somewhere…)

I’ve kind of missed a couple of #pictureLent days, which is really sad for me because it was my way of trying to get back into a routine of devotion – and to stop making excuses of why I couldn’t.  Then I got sick and busy – which is an awesome combination – and I missed a couple of days.  But I’m trying, and I am sticking to my blogging plan (which I’m not saying out loud for fear that just saying it will be enough to make me feel better), so here we are.

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(The program is BibleWorks, which is important for what is going on.  And I should have cleaned up the clutter, but it also just kind of makes sense given the state of my mind and schedule right now.)

Being a pastor means you are called to be a shepherd.  It’s literally the call you sign up for.  I don’t find myself using the crook a lot to fend off wolves, but I do find myself guiding and directing as much as I can, given the boundaries of my position.  And I love it.  Nora’s asked me a few times if I made the right decision for my life’s work and I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

But sometimes you don’t want to be the shepherd that day.  I woke up yesterday and the cough that started destroying me Saturday settled further into my chest and added sneezing.  It was cold outside, making breathing (insert sarcasm), and Nora started her new job.  It was Monday, it’s supposed to be my time for Sabbath, and instead I did about 6 hours worth of work.  Any other Monday I would have just said, “well, I’ll make up for it some other time this week,” but yesterday it just didn’t set well with me.  The laundry and dishes that actually belong on a Monday didn’t get done, the table is clearly still a mess (as is my desk, which is why I’m at the table), and this morning I’ve got some energy back but the cough is still hanging on strong.

I wanted nothing more than to go back to being a sheep in the flock.

My biggest guilt right now is that I haven’t really used scripture as a devotional tool; it’s been my job, and not a whole lot more.  And yesterday I stared at BibleWorks for probably 2 hours and my soul read none of it.  I forgot that I’m still a sheep despite my role as a shepherd.

God is my shepherd.  Scripture is His guidance, His staff, and His love expressed.

Yesterday morning I tweeted about penance and hope, but I also think that any study of scripture – be it professional or devotional – that doesn’t end up leading the person studying to hope is flawed.  I got nothing of hope out of my studies yesterday; I got tasks done, but no devotion.

If I want to be a sheep, if I want God as my shepherd, I have to let him be the shepherd.  Even if I am a shepherd of a small flock, I know that ultimately I am just another sheep that (weakly and slowly and often badly) fights the wolves and guides my fellow sheep.  Ultimately I will not be successful if I rely on my own abilities and not the guidance and protection and love of the ultimate shepherd.

I can’t do this alone, and I am admitting that even if I love my role as minor shepherd in the grand scheme, I am not desiring to be in charge.  I want to be a sheep in God’s flock.  To do that, I need to start relying on scripture again, fully, and not just as a professional tool.  That’s my goal.

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. 2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; 3 he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.

– Psalm 23:1-3 CEB

Peace,

– Robby

 

Who am I?

I ask myself this question more than the average bear, I suppose.  I find myself wondering who it that I am from moment to moment.  I stand in a pulpit and I’m a teacher, and a teacher of the Word none the less.  I stand behind a camera and all of a sudden I’m back to a previous self that doesn’t understand how people blush at certain words and sound like I spent a considerable amount of time on a naval vessel.  Put a beer in front of me and I’m somewhere in between.  If I find myself behind a keyboard, all of a sudden I am forcing myself to be vulnerable.  In a meeting, I’m a closed vault of sorts.

At any moment, I have to decide which me is going to come through.  Actively decide.  I have to choose what level of vulnerability, brashness, and that intangible but always known “sailor talk” is appropriate in every moment.  I actually spend an inordinate about of time deciding if I need to go through and change every “hell” and “damn” I’ve put in this blog.

As much as I may want it to, it doesn’t make me unique.  Every adult has to do that.  Every person who ministers really has to do this.  If you stand at a pulpit, you are hyper-vigilant about it.  You have to decide how honest you are in the pulpit, on the street, and in the hospital room.  Do you show a bit of vulnerability at the risk of authority?  How do you balance that?

This has been weighing on me because I find myself wanting to be more honest and vulnerable from the pulpit.  I’m not desiring to make it my therapy session or a session to air my dirty laundry, but I still feel like there is a certain amount of “faking it” in my sermons.  I had a conversation with one of the ladies of the church after Sunday worship one week and we got to talking about my sermons and somehow it went to our imperfection.  I will never forget her words:

…when you talk about the bad things you’ve done in your sermons, you aren’t that bad.

“…not that bad.” I have to chuckle because I know myself, and I know the whole history. I smile because I know there are weeks that my exegesis is paired with a decent sized glass of bourbon. I chuckle because I think about editing a sermon while South Park is on in the background.  I shake my head because I think about the actual bad things I’ve done, and the things that I thought were really bad.  And I’m torn because I know that those facts shared from the pulpit in a pastoral way would make me more accessible to some people hearing my teachings and yet would drive away other that hear because I cannot meet a certain standard of “piety”, even if my not meeting that standard is a conscious, thought-out choice.

Again, though, this doesn’t make me unique.  If I lined up all of my pastor/preacher friends, I could similar conversations.  Maybe they don’t want to talk about their whiskey and entertainment choices, but maybe there is a bad decision they made or a horribly difficult life situation that they have to hide while in the pulpit that would open up relationships because of the vulnerability it shows and it makes the preacher, the teacher “real”.  The line of how vulnerable and “real” we are supposed to be while preaching, while teaching, and while interacting and providing care for those who we are charged with leading is not straight and changes in thickness, depending on the day, person, and situation.  An act of vulnerability can be too vulnerable, just right, or not vulnerable enough and not change in the slightest.

It’s a battle and “game” that anyone in a caring profession – ministry, counseling, or any others – play out every day, and find the ways to land on that line as often as possible.  Success in these fields requires it.  Period.

And it is freaking draining.  I’m not full-time in ministry at the moment, but even in the small bits of ministry that do come my way, I’m always torn.  Combine that with being on a media crew that is essentially a polar opposite of my church family and wanting to be the best “me” I can be to feed the souls in both groups the best that I can because I am a Christian and that is my interpretation of the call of the gospel (Feeding All Souls In Love) and it is exhausting because I don’t know when I am the real me.  After 27 years, 4 months, and 25 days, I don’t really know who I am.

… … …

Actually, yes I do.  I know exactly who I am.  I’m a God-worshiping beer drinker who cooks a bit too much, swears a bit too much, and loves as much as he can.  That’s who I am.  I think the reason I have to ask myself “Who am I?” constantly is because I don’t let myself be myself.  Sometimes I can’t be myself – cracking opening a beer at the pulpit is unacceptable, I think – and sometimes I don’t think I should be myself but this short, overweight, beer-loving preacher who curses and loves and gets distracted so easily (from the start of this sentence to now I’ve followed 6 new blogs….) and worships Jesus as much as he can and maybe relies on the Holy Spirit a bit too much on Sundays and tries really hard to be a good husband but falls short sometimes and really just wants to be real and vulnerable.

And that conflicts with who I have to be to feed some souls, and matches right up with other souls I feed.  And I want to feed them all.

So to respond to Ben Huberman’s prompt about our various “Me’s” colliding, I simply say, “Got 27 years, 4 months, and 25 days?  Because my life is defined by various versions of myself colliding with the real me.”

Who am I?  I am “Jesus, Beer, and My Tiny Kitchen” in human form; this blog is me in writing form.  Only person me messes up a whole lot more in the kitchen and written me cures a whole lot less.

To honesty, vulnerability, and beer,

– Robby