GRUMPY PREACHERS & P.M.S.
Probably the biggest faux pas of my professional ministry occurred the Monday that I forgot to have the church unlocked for the P.M.S. support group.
I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Actually, at the time people were just beginning to talk openly about the condition that is in some cases pretty serious. Still, as a pastor, I thought the idea of support groups in general was sort of lame. I knew they carried importance as part of substance abuse recovery, twelve-step programs and the like, but it seemed at the time that folks were creating support groups for just about everything. You need to understand that I probably needed a support group for my own baggage, but I just didn’t see their importance back in the day. This was the era when people were just starting to appear on the Oprah show and talk openly about their challenges (which I think is a great thing) but it seemed that some people just took it over the top. So when a lady who had been attending services told me after morning worship one weekend that she wanted permission to begin a support group for women struggling with pre menstrual syndrome, I first thought she was joking. I guess I had a slight smirk on my face because she just sort of tilted her head in one direction and all the color left her face. I quickly organized my thoughts and realized that she was serious and proceeded to act like I wasn’t smiling but that I had something in my teeth and was trying to tongue it out. It really wasn’t my call to grant permission for church use without running it by some other folks, but trying to wiggle out of the moment I said, “Sure, Monday’s great. What time? Seven? No problem. I’ll tell someone and the church will be open for you.” I didn’t think she meant that Monday – as in the next day! But she did. It was about 8:30 when I returned home from an evening at the grocery store with my family. As usual, I had more bags in my arms than necessary, but it’s a game guys play to see how many we can carry without losing one. I set them down and saw the message indicator on the answering machine flashing away. I hit the play button and started unpacking groceries when I heard a very tense, high-pitched voice on the other end of the line saying, “Pastor…this is …there are about twelve premenstrual women on the lawn outside your church right now. I thought you were going to make sure the church was open for us tonight. This was very inconvenient…..” Honestly, I don’t even remember what else was said. This time all the color left my face as I instantly thought, not only of the twelve women, but also of their husbands who I would certainly be seeing soon. My wife came in with her arms full of groceries as well, saw the look on my face and said, “What’s wrong? Who called?” Then I just started laughing. Not a good laugh either. You know the kind of crazy laugh you get when you can’t decide to laugh or cry or whatever!” “I forgot the p.m.s. support group tonight,” I blurted out. “What?” she asked with an edge in her voice, and then I realized that she was premenstrual at the moment as well. Now I was feeling surrounded, like I was the only one who didn’t get it. That’s when I remembered Mort Crim.
Mort Crim was the local NBC news anchor for Detroit during the 80s and 90s. He had a great broadcast voice, a solid presence to make all the worrying Detroiters feel safe, and above all, a great sense of humor. A few years earlier, Mort was highlighting a story about a man who had been attacked by dogs in a residential alley in Detroit. There had been a problem with packs of dogs running in sections of the city so this was a hot story. After his lead in he cut to a recorded interview with a lady whose backyard ran alongside the alleyway. She was African American, maybe forty years old, fairly large and had an urban swagger to sit up and notice. She recounted how she had been awakened early in the morning by the sound of dogs fighting in the alley (her head swaying left-to-right while her body remained motionless). She looked out her window and that’s when she observed the man being attacked by the wild creatures. She said she had picked up a cabbage head out of the yard (apparently she had a garden) and threw it at the dogs. When they didn’t leave she said she found an old chair leg laying in the yard, so she grabbed it and hurled it right in the middle of the fight. She said the dogs began to scatter and that’s when she saw the man was hurt very badly, so she called the P.M.S. TRUCK! Obviously, she meant E.M.S. so when the camera came back to Mort he was just smiling the same smile that I had been caught with in the church foyer. He closed the story by saying, “Well, there you have it. You heard it here first on W.D.I.V.”
I reminded Kitty of the news story and then I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s exactly what I need right now! Where is the P.M.S. truck when you need it?” We laughed for quite a long time, and when I finally found the courage I called the support group leader back to apologize and explain…which didn’t go so well.
“Well if you don’t understand just forget it!” she said. Then she took a deep breath and said, “Look, we’ll find another place. It actually worked pretty well to meet outside on the lawn. Maybe we’ll just do that for a while. It seemed to have a calming effect.”
Which might explain why I take long walks and often sit outside before and after ministering on the weekends. I told my wife that I think I have P.M.S.. – pre-ministry syndrome. Strangely, she agreed and suggested that I consider starting a support group for me and some of my preacher friends because we’re so grumpy on Saturdays and Mondays.
Okay; what gives? Why are some preachers so grumpy? Think about it: For us, everything is an issue of right or wrong, spiritual or carnal. We feel caught in the gap between heaven and earth, often times with a message that just has to be heard! Then there’s all the fun we’ve had taken away from us…but we still have to act like we are having fun…you know doing churchy things. Let’s face it, spirituality can be a heavy load…and it can create a huge stumbling block for a lot of people…with or without P.M.S.
But it’s not just preachers; it’s a lot of Christians in general. I know I don’t speak for everyone here, but I think a lot of it comes from a deeply held sense of self righteousness mixed with just a pinch of fear. After all, we’re talking about eternity here, and no matter what anybody says, we’re just not that comfortable with it. I know there are probably a lot of great Christian folks who don’t have that self righteous chip, but most of us wrestle with it from time-to-time. It’s just part of the deal. So what to do?