My throat was tight as I threatened, “You have until 5:00 to put me in contact with the person who can resolve this!” Then I slammed down the phone.
Slammed down the phone? Who does that? Certainly not me. But yesterday, I did.
The victim on the other end of the phone had called to explain to our front office (again) why his boss had failed to authorize payment of a bill now five months in arrears. Over the months, the excuses for non-payment had grown more and more creative, less and less convincing. I typically don’t interfere in the front office’s management of our day-to-day financial affairs, but this situation had to be resolved. So when he called I asked our office manager put him through to me—the Big Dog. The poor guy. He had no authority to pay, and I felt bad that he had been put in this position by his supervisor. He certainly didn’t deserve the Phone Slam. But sure enough, within the hour, his supervisor called and in the wary tone one might use to dissuade a rabid dog, she promised prompt payment.
It didn’t feel like a victory. I leaned back in my office chair, threw my glasses on the desk, ran my hands through my hair and surveyed my disheveled surroundings. I realized that that blow-up had been coming all week. My desk was littered with half-empty cans of Diet Coke and cold cups of coffee. Paper drifted across my desk, falling to the floor, littering every chair, creeping even into the Volunteer Center. Post-it notes had spawned post-it notes, reminding me of deadlines long past and promises not kept. Books to be read, music to be learned, reports to be written, meetings to be scheduled, scribbled notes to be deciphered. I had been disappointed, and had disappointed in turn. Time had been robbed by trivial matters. I usually have the radio on in my office as I work, and I wonder if the anger of the impeachment inquiry hearings had squirreled its way into my brain. It had been a train wreck of a week.
And what did I do—the seasoned pastor who prides herself on emotional equanimity, who listens carefully and asks insightfully, who trusts people to be well-intentioned and is forgiving when they are not? I raised my voice and slammed the phone.
Though I trust you will forgive me for having been a complete miscreant, I missed a tremendous opportunity with the young man on the phone. He had been placed in an impossible position and I only exacerbated the impossibility of his task. What do you imagine he reported at his supper table last night? That a frustrated client had been patient with him? No. He reported that an angry pastor had ripped him to shreds for something he didn’t do. What a witness I offered, huh? Do you suppose he’ll worship with us on Sunday, and that, if he is not Christian, he might consider it? Did I do Jesus proud?
Sunday brings us one step closer to the end of our church year, and presents us with texts filled with tension and angst and fear. It may well be that Jesus’ promise of false prophets, wars and insurrections, persecution, torture, public humiliation and death also contributed to my dark mood. (Luke 21.5-19) I’ve been pondering that dispiriting text all week.
But Jesus’ warning, now two centuries old, reminds us that the danger and darkness of this time in our common life is new only to us. There has not been a generation in all of human history that hasn’t experienced the chaos, the corruption, the fear that plagues us. And, even as Jesus warned his disciples of the trouble to come—trouble multiplied by their faithfulness to him—he told them the trouble was an opportunity. An opportunity not to yell and scream, to accuse and judge, to quake and hide. But an opportunity to testify:
“Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
Words and a Wisdom. What a lofty goal, a tremendous gift, an elusive outcome.
I promise not to yell at you when we gather on Sunday. I promise not to slam the phone down when you call. And I promise to listen with you, to you, as together we navigate these troubled times. Though we ought not be surprised at the depth of the darkness around us, I know we will be surprised by the opportunities it affords. Opportunities to do Jesus proud.
A little calmer today,
Pastor JoAnn Post