A college history professor, teaching a class on American religion, once noted that in the frontier days the men who often got the “call to preach” were those who couldn’t do anything else. They were the wastrels, the ne’er-do-wells, those who were floundering with their life when they suddenly realized, “Hey, I could start preaching and immediately I will have a job, and respect, and a place in the community.” (I suspect that a neurological conflagration also played a part in many of those “calls”, especially those that appeared to be of the “got a wild hair up their backside” variety)
I think that so many of our clergy today are assembly-line, mass produced, machine-produced men and women. They are spiritual technocrats, adept at trotting out a good sermon, propping up the congregation’s pretenses, flashing that Christian (or otherwise) ivory here and there, and going their merry way. They are, as a friend of mine once wrote, “heroes of spiritual contraception who have long since despaired of rebirth.” (Charles “Chuck” Dewitt)
They have been enculturated into Christianity and thus are professional ministers, preachers, priests, rabbis, mullahs, or what have you. But they have nothing to offer from beyond the pale for they’ve never been there themselves. These “spiritual technocrats” reflect our culture which also has long-since “despaired of rebirth.” Our culture’s only frame of reference is itself and that, as noted earlier last week, is mental illness. These “technocrats” have never experienced the “Dark Night of the Soul” (St. John of the Cross) or “The Cloud of Unknowing” which would then empower them to offer a prophetic word. They have never done their “time in the desert” like Jesus did.
Conrad Aiken once noted, “We see only the small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” The clergy that I’m upbraiding here have never been outside of that “small bright circle”. To do so would entail an encounter with intense anxiety and despair. It is easier for them to stay within the cozy confines of this “circle,” thus mirroring the culture at large which has done the same, which has “made for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.” (W. H. Auden) This phenomena has been addressed in history and sociology as the church in “cultural captivity.”