Maybe it’s my age, but these days I do pay closer attention to obituary columns, and headlines about people I know who have died. And too often think, or say, “That’s too young.”
This past week, Bishop Carlton D. Pearson, a preacher, singer and author who moved from Pentecostalism to what he called “The Gospel of Inclusion,” died at age 70.
And I gratefully revisited a Sabbath Moment I had written about Pearson many years ago. At the time, a Pentecostal bishop and TV evangelist. He pastored a mega-church in Tulsa, Oklahoma with over 5,000 members.
After a life-altering experience in Rwanda, Pearson had growing feelings that the doctrines he had been taught (and preached) no longer felt true for him. Even so, he believed that he could not allow himself to examine these feelings, mostly out of concern that he would “let down” his congregation.
After all, didn’t they expect him to supply ready and comforting answers?
Would his questioning eventually lead him to “abandon” his faith?
If he were no longer the “preacher with answers,” where would he find his identity?
Pearson decided, finally, that he could no longer live with the pressure of feeling like a hypocrite, and abruptly left the church. Alan Lurie writes, “Looking back, Pearson discovered that his reluctance to question the prepackaged doctrines that he had been given, and fear of examining his assumptions about how a man of faith should act, actually diminished his faith and his sense of purpose.”
Pearson moved to a new church, where he preached from his heart and soul, without fear of duplicity.
His story is not just about a changing or evolving belief system.
This story is about what can happen when we live from the core of our authentic self, and at home in our own skin.
This is a story about reconnecting with our heart. And how the choices we make from that core, spill light to the world around us.
You see, I can relate to Carlton.
Because I’ve known that feeling… like an impostor, or pretender, somewhere deep down.
Every single one of us wants to live an authentic life. And yet, it is very easy to live from a “false self.”
For some of us, it happens when we cross an invisible line in the sand of our soul.
When our spirit has been finally depleted.
When we are fueled only by some need for survival.
When we have lost heart, because we feel both confused and powerless.
When we give in to some default mechanism, always looking over our shoulder, to see if we pass muster.
You know the litany. Call it what you like, social acceptance or social routine or public opinion or labeling… It all boils down to this, “Whom are you going to dance for?”
There are so many ways we get derailed. And we create elaborate scaffolding, needed to prop up our glittering image. Or our ego. Or our fear of imperfection. Or our unadorned need to be liked. Smiling, as I recall the old voices in my head, “What will they think?” “Don’t disappoint us.” “Don’t make God angry.”
You see, it all starts when I buy the myth that this (stuff, achievements, creeds, accoutrements, circumstance) is all there is to my identity. And when I succumb to any contrived or fabricated image, I fall short of my best self.
Because I do know this… When I am not at home, I live at the mercy of. I react. I live defensive. I project. I live afraid. I push people away. And I need to label you, because you are different and a threat. The contrived script owns me.
In his book about his life change, Pearson wrote, “The blasphemy I stand accused of is the simple message of the Gospel of Inclusion: the whole world is saved, but they just don’t know it. Saved not only from hell and eternal damnation, but saved from itself—saved from its erroneous perceptions of God and good… If I am judged for perceiving Christ or Christianity in error, I’d rather be wrong for overestimating the love of God than underestimating it. I’d rather err on the goodness, greatness and graciousness of God than the opposite.”
Yes… I can speak from my heart, with compassion, and see (or welcome) my brothers and sisters, because I see (and honor) the common ground we share.
When I was young, I remember a book that got me thinking; Your God is Too Small, by JB Phillips.
And it’s so true, that we’re taught to put God in a box, and whoever doesn’t believe that box, must not believe “in God”. That’s the way I was raised… and my own journey has been to welcome the gift—that God is bigger than any box created.
Rest in Peace, Carlton. Thank you for the light you spilled. I know that Pearson’s change did not come from just “trying harder.” True change only happens when we switch the focus from what is on the outside, to affirmation of what is on the inside.
True, it’s easy to allow this hunger for acceptance to seep into our psyche. And if such expectations or labels are not enough, we carry some shame that we should try harder (or at least enroll in a self-help course). We feel undeserving, or under a microscope, or inadequate. Just like the pressure-cooker Pearson experienced.
For Carlton, Grace is the reset button. The power of grace, is arms of healing and value and safety regardless of absence of certainty about creed or destination.
Richard Rohr’s reminder, “By God’s love, mercy, and grace, we are already the Body of Christ: the one universal body that has existed since the beginning of time. You and I are here for just a few decades, dancing on the stage of life, perhaps taking our autonomous selves far too seriously. That little and clearly imperfect self just cannot believe it could be a child of God. I hope the gospel frees us to live inside of a life that is larger than the one our small selves have imagined.”
On Saturday, I watched the Michigan Ohio State football game. My annual tradition, a game (maybe bigger than religion) I’ve watched since I was a small boy. Two really good teams. And a nail biter. And, Michigan won…. Go Blue. Yes, I’m smiling big.
And this week you’ll receive my end of the year email update. If it’s not your thing, pass it on, or ignore it. I just want to take the time, to let you know, how grateful I am that you are a part of the Sabbath Moment community. It means the world.
Quotes for your week…
We spend our lives impersonating who we think others want us to be, and we end up as living impostors. Carlton Pearson
Today’s Photo Credit: “Terry, I can’t help but share a bit in response to the questions you raised in Thursday’s SM. I’ve consciously embraced over the years some of those ‘childish’ attributes you described and that I value, perhaps even moreso as I’ve aged. The joy of laughter and silliness. Awe and delight and gratitude at our natural world. Embracing the senses and the pleasure that comes with them. Letting myself be seen, warts and goofiness and all. Even if it’s just making eye contact with a stranger at the store, letting myself smile with my eyes at that person, feeling the warm energy flow from me to them. And the often surprising thing about that? The response! Such sweet human connection without a word even spoken. Attaching a photo from a recent trip to O’ahu. Wow, wow, wow. What a magical place. Hope you got some manatee time in Florida!” Mary Ajideh… Thank you Mary… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to terryhershey.com
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Letters that do my heart good…
–Dear Terry, How you brighten my life! Your perspective brings balance to these caregiving days I am living. Thank you for keeping one. Karen
–Dear Terry, I gratefully receive Sabbath Moment and share it. We both are so inspired by your writings and those you share. Our parish priest sometimes uses your stories in his homilies! Love it! Blessings, Carol
–Every morning I look forward to your email, and it sets the tone for my day. I appreciate you! Blessings, Bunny
–Hi Terry! Yes, I am looking forward to reading it… it’s in an important read file. I will definitely purchase the whole book soon and share your good news with friends and clients. I do spiritual health coaching so connecting with you is part of the gift. Practices such as Prayerful Yoga based on Father Tom Ryan’s Yoga Prayer and Mindfulness practices for stress management and work / life balance are a bit of what I / we offer. Thank you for the gift! Blessings & Peace Daily, Anita
–Thank you Terry for all the positive reflections, the meaningful stories shared, and the Sabbath moments found in each day because of all the light you shine! Hoping you and your family have an awesome Thanksgiving. Denise
–Happy Thanksgiving , Terry Hershey! And thank you for the geese and the sheep and all of the wisdom you pass along , and for writing from a soft heart! Jan
–Dear Terry, Thank you for so graciously sharing of yourself through Sabbath Moment. I so appreciate your experiences, your knowledge, your wisdom, your memories and stories, your thoughts, your journey. As you so often quote, ‘We are all just walking each other home.’ Thanks for the company. In gratitude and with so much fondness, Mary
POEMS AND PRAYERS
O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.
Samuel F. Pugh
May the deep blessings of Earth be with us.
May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul.
May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths
to open us to wonder
to strengthen us for love
to humble us with gratitude
that we may find ourselves in one another
that we may lose ourselves in gladness
that we give ourselves to peace.
-John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth