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The Dark Side of Adulation

The Dark Side of Adulation

    Sheryl Crow has been stalked, so goes the headline on an inside page of The Metro Section of The New York Times this past Tuesday.

    I am no Grammy Award-winning singer, but I too have suffered my small share of stalking.  Sheryl's shadow visited her parents in a remote corner of Missouri.  My shadow drove to our vacation town in Vermont, and played peek-a-boo with my wife at the grocery store.  Celebrity Sheryl called the cops on her harasser.  My harasser called the fire department on me, claiming there was smoke billowing from the roof when there was none, except a wisp from the chimney.  Sheryl admitted that her stalker never verbally threatened her.  My stalker phoned me on a regular basis and treated my tender ears to a river of obscenity. 

    A well-meaning colleague in the United Methodist ministry considered it his urgent duty to warn me that the person following me hither and yon had stopped at his doorstep and, during his attempts to counsel with her, discovered she had fantasies about defenestrating me.  When I laughed at the thought of mortal injury at her hands, my pastoral friend was indignant; but he didn't know what I knew, that the stalker was so inept, so physically challenged, she would probably fall headlong out the window trying to push me through it.

    That poor soul (she really was a sad case, a sociopath) spent the last several years of her life in a wheelchair.  Oh, I visited her in the mental hospital a couple of times.  She was smart enough with the brain.  It was her ability to connect with other human beings that was terribly deformed.  Before her confinement to a wheelchair, she would position herself along the avenue in full view of fire engines racing to a fire, and moon the volunteers.  She plied us on holidays with ice cream cakes we were afraid to eat.  She bought dresses for our daughters... and got the sizes right. 

    Her mother phoned me to tell me that her daughter had died, knowing that, however troublesome she had been to me, I still held her in bemused and distant affection.

    There are those who look upon the ordained ministry and note the adulation to which we are treated, the congregants at the door telling us how wonderfully we preach, the storeowners who ply us with small treats, the fuss mayors and other dignitaries make over us when we share a dais with them, and the frequency with which our names make the local papers for laudatory reasons.  True enough, the parson (deriving, be it noted from "The Person") gets favored status in our society.  Pedestalization, it  could be called.  As my preaching mentor remarked sarcastically about the fellow in the pulpit, that he is three feet above contradiction.

    Which makes the pastor/preacher an inviting target for those who cannot seem to get any satisfaction in the personal exchanges of the day most of us take for granted.  Like my stalker frequently reminded me when I told her to get a life: "But you are a pastor and you have to be a Christian to me."  Once in exasperation I replied, "Did it ever occur to you that you should be a Christian to me?" 

    So, Sheryl, when I say I understand what you're going through, I do in fact know.  It's like those deer flies in Vermont in late summer; they fly lazily, but fast enough to avoid swatting, aiming always for the scalp, a most annoying distraction on a warm and cloudless day when there are fields to be mowed, cars to be waxed, and wood to be split.  But if you can find a convenient wall against which to rest your head, the buzzing goes away.  In other words, to escape the nuisance, one must curtail one's freedom, if ever so slightly, and alter the environment limiting occasions for outside intrusions upon one's routine. 

    Add this essay to the unwritten chapter in my book on "Things They Never Teach You in Seminary."




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