Top 10 Reasons I would make a Lousy Bishop

1. I Don’t Like Going to Church

I really don’t like to go. I went when I was growing up because I was supposed to. I don’t remember it having a large impact on my life. I didn’t go in college. I went some but my community in those days was the dormitory and church camp. When I went to church in seminary, it was more like career exploration. In the twenty years I went to church because I was paid to go to church, I often asked myself, would I go to church if I didn’t have to go? Turns out, the answer is no. In the nearly five years I’ve been out of professional church work, I have not attended church all that much. I went, for a while, because I was required to do so by my bishop having to do with things pertaining to reasons 3, 4, & 7.

I go to church a little more now, with my family, especially when I am asked to supply for my priest (for which I am paid a helpful honorarium), or when I want to reconnect with friends. I struggle with our liturgy. I find it rote and lacking creativity. Okay, so Cranmer was brilliant. But that was a long time ago. What, we got no more brilliance that can help us pray in a way that makes sense for our 21st century reality? I value ritual, but ritual that makes sense in a language and context that makes sense. BTW, Saint Cranmer, I’m done with the atonement theology that is wrapped throughout your masterpiece. Can we please get over ourselves and know we have been loved, are currently loved, and will be loved forever. “We are not so much worthy to gather the the crumbs…” Are you kidding me? Fuck that. Move on people. This is ridiculous. We talk about the sanctity of creation, the holiness and the beauty of the earth, and yet we refer to ourselves as decrepit, disastrous, damned? No wonder I don’t like going to church. The liturgy doesn’t just bore me, it pisses me off. I’m tired of these words that don’t say what I believe. (BTW, for those of you can identify with Reason #4, I think you should get a blog and just write. I think it may help reduce my medicine intake and therapy co-pay).

During the process of considering myself as bishop, I acknowledged what I try to acknowledge in this writing. I asked people about church. I asked them about their faith. Many people I know love the liturgy. I love some of the music we have. But I went a long time without the Eucharist. I didn’t miss it. I didn’t feel less loved by God. I felt, sometimes, criticized by others by not doing what was seen as my duty or obligation.

When I go to church I see people I love and that love me. That’s a good reason to go, I suppose. But I rarely leave worship satisfied. I feel I’ve completed something, in the way I’ve turned in an assignment, but not in the way I feel when I write a song, or dance, or get excited about seeing friends at a cool event.

It’s a big part of a bishop’s job description, to go to church. Maybe it’s easier on a bishop because they don’t have to go to the same church every Sunday. Maybe it’s harder, because they don’t have a community around them in the same way a parish priest does. I think one reason I don’t go to church as much as I use to is because I have a very strong community where I live. People know who I am, support me and my family; they genuinely care for and love us. It’s a wonderful gift. Guess what. Many people, in the category above, don’t identify themselves as Christian. At all. Some have another tradition, some have no tradition and are not into metaphysics. Some don’t speak much about what they believe or don’t believe. I still marvel that I have such a strong community here and yet we have such differing approaches to the Big Picture. I had a priest colleague who told me he envied me in that regard.

I worried that had I become a bishop, that I would have gotten back into the church vortex and lose my connection with people who don’t share some pretty important foundational things with me, like my faith in Christ or my baptismal commitments. Perhaps the issue here, is that I might need to redefine what is foundational for me. Yes, my friends and I might differ about how we think the world is put together and which way you point your head when you pray and how many times you can you say Alleluia during Lent before some nee’r-do-well angel with a hard-on for detail reports you to the higher-ups. So to speak.
But we care about our planet, we care about our futures, we care about our motorcycles most of all. It’s not perfect, but its of value, real, and, to me, holy and sacred.

It doesn’t appear we differ in more things that are, perhaps the most foundational: How we treat one another on a daily basis. How we talk about each other. How we pay attention to one another’s lives. When I did church work, I thought that what I had to offer was community. And, of course, that is a major part of what I think the church does need to offer. The clergy and bishops and other leadership of the institution that don’t get that, well, please see reason #8 and consider yourselves appropriately cussed out. I have community here. It includes a Eucharistically centered community, and all flippancy aside (I’m trying to build a readership, damn it) that is important to me. If I didn’t have such strong community here, I would probably look to the church for more of that. If I move and teach at an international school in Kazakhstan or Argentina or Scottsdale, then maybe I’d use the church to find community and connection elsewhere.

My main community is not eucharistic, it is geographical, socio-economic, and cultural. It includes a 12-step community. It has been a tremendous resource for me as I have negotiated important changes in my life. In considering the episcopacy, I knew I would miss this community and I worried about that. Now that I know that I’m not to be a bishop, I can take what I have less for granted and give thanks. My community is no more utopian than that of anyone else, it has plenty of challenges. Perhaps what I am learning, as a man who wants to be helpful and offer something born out of experience, is that, as my dear mother has said for many years, “You can’t put God in a box.” Thanks Mom.

For now, I remain on the margins. That’s not a bad place to be. The margins of a circle are where the margins of other circles intersect and overlap. I don’t know if that’s good geometry, but it’s working for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have been that lousy of a bishop, but I was relieved to find out it’s not going to happen. I put it out there. I took it seriously. I may even have prayed about it. I think a few others did pray on my behalf. Thanks for that support, and for the support of your time and attention in considering this blog.

Be happy, people. Find your way. Life is too fragile and short for less noble pursuits. Amen.

Top 10 Reasons I would be a Lousy Bishop

2. I’m a Relativist
The bishop I grew up with, Wesley Frensdorf, he allegedly said that there are few absolutes. He helped me exit fundamentalism and return to my roots as an Episcopalian. I think he was right. I don’t really do absolutes. I don’t think I would be good at defending or guarding the faith-one of the bishop’s tasks- because I don’t think God needs defending or guarding. God doesn’t exist because of my construct of God. My construct of God exists because others have articulated it and promoted it and shared it and imposed it and threatened with it and done great good with it and great evil with it and all of that. The faith of the church, or any other religious body, has more to do with its practitioners than with the object of the faith.
I don’t understand completely. I don’t need to. It’s all myth as far as I am concerned. It’s myth in the very best sense of the word, in the sense that the Christian story has intersected with my story and in that intersection I have found great meaning, comfort, hope, purpose, and only a little bit of anxiety that I’m going to get in trouble after I die for using bad words and saying that things are relative (see reasons 3 and 4). The story I believe in and the myth I claim have given me access to that which is beyond story, myth, reason, faith, etc. Whatever the truth is, it is, I don’t need to defend it or guard it. I don’t want to defend the truth. I want to access it more fully.

I’ve just spent a month in Central Asia, surrounded by Islam. They got a different myth. They got a different story. I want to learn more about these strange people called Muslims who dare to pray five times daily and do better than Christians do, living life without alcohol. During Ramadan, they spend a whole month fasting and giving their money to the poor (I’m a little curious about what poor people do the other eleven months of the year). And the only liturgical rubric they got is pray toward Mecca. That’s easy. You get a map, a compass, a GPS-whatever you need-find and pray toward Mecca. I’d make a lousy bishop. Maybe I’d make a better Imam.

Top 10 Reasons I would make a Lousy Bishop

3. I Tend to Get in Trouble

I do. I got in trouble in school. I got in trouble in college. I got in trouble in seminary. I got in trouble during my sabbatical when I entered Hearst Castle somewhat late in the evening. I thought it would be a good idea to joust with the palace whilst on my motorcycle and then write about it-kind of like I’m doing now. Well, the imagining is always different from the reality. I came to my senses just a little way in and waited on the park police to come find me. They did. They gave me a DUI check (negative}, ignored all the burnt matches on the asphalt by my bike, and gave me a ticket which I ignored for a year while I was depressed and unemployed, which meant I had to go to court in San Luis Obispo, which meant I had to have a conversation with a judge that went something like this (true story-dialogue only a little hyped):

SAP: Your Honor, may I address the bench?

JUDGE: Of course.

SAP: Your Honor, I’m prepared to plead guilty to the trespassing charge, but before I do that, I wonder if I might take some of the court’s time to explain a little bit about what happened.

JUDGE: [At this point, the older jurist looks up from the mountain of DUI reports in front of me, finds me standing in a crowded court room, removes his glasses and starts chewing on the temples. I’m banking on the fact that he’s not used to someone speaking on their own behalf. Most of the folks there (I know, because I was in rehab with them and heard about their legal problems that made mine look like kid stuff) had an attorney doing their bidding]
By all means. Pleas proceed, says the Judge.

SAP: Your Honor, I am an Episcopal priest in Arizona. I ran into a bit of trouble with burn-out and a mid-life crisis that I mistakenly treated with marijuana. During a sabbatical from a stressful job, I entered Hearst castle after hours. The large gates came open late at night, letting out several catering trucks. I entered the park and slid by the turnstile on my moto. I did no injury to it, sir. I simply wanted to ride about, accompanied by the full moon on a glorious summer night in one of your state’s finest parks.

JUDGE: Interesting, How far did you get? [He’s hooked!.I says to myself, I’m walking out of here with a governor’s pardon and a state voucher for my mobatel room and bacon cheeseburger at Denny’s]

SAP: Truth be told Your Honor, not as far as I would have liked. I decided to stop my motor vehicle and rested on the side of the road until state police found me.

JUDGE. I see. [His tone gives me pause at this point in conversation. I think I could have misinterpreted his initial response to my errant adventure]

SAP: May it please the court, I’d like you to know that at no point was I argumentative with the park police. I cooperated fully.

Judge: That’s good to hear. They do a good job for us out there.

SAP: Indeed they do, sir, indeed they do. Please know, Your Honor, I’ve been through a month-long rehab program in Palm Springs. I’m now a school teacher. Yes. Yes I am, sir. I am a school teacher now.

JUDGE: {[Here’s where I start to lose confidence. He leans back in his high-backed judge chair and puts his glasses back on]
You know, wasn’t that long ago that they had dogs around those parts. Not sure about the breed, maybe pit. I just don’t recall. I do remember this. You sure didn’t want to get sideways with those pooches.

SAP: No, Your Honor, I imagine you didn’t. [Not good. Sounds like a cautionary tale]

JUDGE: I remember something about some poor soul getting chewed up pretty good. They may have got him. I can’t recall. [In his comment, he’s veiled a comment, some subliminal message to me that I wasn’t astute to fully decipher]

SAP: Is that right, Sir? I had no idea.

Judge: [He turns his head away from me, leans over his exalted judges bench and speaks to the attractive young assistant DA who is probably fresh out of law school, paying her dues prosecuting DUI and clergy trespass cases. I sense I have not made the same impression on her as I thought I initially had on His Honor]
Ms Davenport, says the Judge, Will the State agree to la, la, lalala, la, la, la in the case of Mr.Polley–vs–The State of California?
[Ms. Davenport agreed, unhappily, to the terms. I sensed she wanted more blood from me. I also sensed the recollection of my escapade did not charmed her as it did the judge. I went with my strengths and gift for communicating. Me and the Judge were shoot’n the shit about Joust’n with The Castle.
Granted, we shot the shit in the midst of a courtroom packed with lawyers and defendants-other interested parties- who were there for some serious offenses, including felony DUI. My adventure had interested the judge enough that he gave me a break. Given the bench warrant with my name on it, he couldn’t let me walk away. He did hit me with a hefty $600 fine. But he required no community service and no return visit to SLObispo to check up on my sobriety. I’m still waiting for the Denny’s voucher]

I get in trouble, but I usually get through it. I get in trouble in my new job, too. I got in trouble last year for telling 8th grade students from rural Arizona that I smoked pot, lost my job, went to rehab, and became a high-school teacher. It probably didn’t help that I jokingly told one of the 8th grade boys that I would fight him if he didn’t come to our high school. This is where open enrollment leads, friends. It’s a slippery slope.

I think I seek out trouble a little (probably has to do with reasons 6&7) and would have probably gotten into trouble as a bishop. Jesus got in trouble. Didn’t turn out well for him. I don’t think he got in trouble because he sought it out. I think he got in trouble because of who he was and how he lived his life and his need to be helpful and tell the truth. If I get in trouble, I hope it’s for the right reasons.

Top 10 Reasons I Would Be a Lousy Bishop

4. I Have Had Some Mental Health Challenges

I’m getting better all the time, but I’ve had some significant personal crises in my life. The stress from broken romances, active addictions, failed Ph.D applications, smoking really strong ganja, growing up with an alcoholic, growing up with an alcoholic in Las Vegas, being a late bloomer, voting for Ronald Reagan in 1984, being a Christian fundamentalist, being a Nervous Nelly while coming across as a somewhat confident and together guy, voting for Ralph Nader in 1996, having three psychiatric hospitalizations (two of which were volunteer, the third one, others volunteered me); I mean, Jesus, people, I have been through it.

I’m fine and sleep pretty well and make a living and have a wonderful family and get along with my mother and have some self-awareness. I’m okay. I really am. I like who I am. I enjoy myself. I love writing about my life. I don’t need to relive any of it. Well, I would go back in time and see if I could get a do- over with Julie from Las Vegas. Our 12-hour romance was not long enough. I wrote a song about it. I titled it, One Kiss Romance. I need to finish it.

It’s a stressful job being bishop. And the last thing I need to happen as I ride hard in my mid-life saddle, is to have something go south and wind up in more trouble. It sucks, the trouble. I’ve been there. I know. I’m probably as squared away as I am because of the troubles. I’ve gotten through them them with the love of God and everyone God used get me through. But, between you and me, I don’t need that kind of trouble again.

Top 10 Reasons I would be a Lousy Bishop

5. I Don’t Think Denominational Identity is that Important.

I think we are beyond the point in the history of Christianity, at least in the variety I practice it, where denomination matters like it used to. Used to be that denomination had more to say about one’s education and social strata than anything else. Of course, there have been serious differences between the different Christian tribes, but it looks like many of them are fading. Check out Reclaiming Jesus if you can Reclaiming Jesus . All these high-end leaders, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, they got that new confession pretty dialed in as far as I’m concerned. Damn right they do. Sign me up for post-denominationalism and let’s get our bling on and our asses in gear.

Episcopalian types give a shit about too much that is not worth a shit in the first place. I swear to Christ, that gets to me and makes me want to use profanity. I could give a fried about what a bishop wears or when you say amen or cross yourself or other things like that. If it’s important to you, then do it, but it’s not to me.

Narrator: “Problem is, Bishop Polley, you’re the guy who is in charge of things like rubrics and customaries and things like that are important to your clergy and many of your flock. Your flippant attitude could be interpreted as, how to put it, insensitive.”

Bishop Polley: “I know, I know. That’s probably why I’m writing this blog about not being a good bishop because other people pretty much figured that out as well. So, you don’t need to keep referring to me as Bishop Polley, because, I’m not a bishop. I just put my name in and it’s done and now I’m having a little fun. Besides, it kinda freaks me out when you call me that.”

Top 10 Reasons I Would Be a Lousy Bishop

6. I Mix Politics and Religion when I Preach

They say don’t do it, but I do. I don’t see how you can’t. I can’t not. Even after I stopped working full-time and became a teacher, when I preached as a supply priest, I kept doing it. One man and his wife walked out on my sermon when I suggested Donald Trump must not breath the same air as the rest of us and be interconnected to us as the passage in Galatians suggested. Otherwise, I says, Trump would have signed the Paris Climate Change accord.

Another time, I preached at a Unitarian Church-not sure I was allowed to, but did it anyway (see reason #7). I’m glad I did that. They dropped a generous honorarium check in my hand and then gave me money for my pizza and chocolate fund in my classroom. I had rewritten Neil Young’s lyrics for Alabama and changed it to address Arizona’s lack of commitment to education. My wife sand the song and I played the guitar-poorly. I criticized the state for not giving a fried fuck about brown kids on the border (See reason #8). BTW, I didn’t say it that way from the Unitarian Universalist pulpit. Maybe I should have.

Top 10 Reasons I would be a Lousy Bishop

#7. I have Problems with Authority Figures

I’ve served under six Episcopal bishops. I’ve had serious run-ins with three. One of those run-ins included the use of profanity (see reason #8). None were pleasant. All had consequences. It was never fun. Thing is, had I been a bishop, I wonder who I would have battled. The presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church isn’t really the boss bishop, not in the same way as the Roman Catholics run their show. I bet if someone were to go off on the current pope, that cat would come back hard and wouldn’t take any BS. He’s real and seems to be comfortable in his skin. I’d chill with him if he had a few minutes. I suppose my conflict would be with the standing committee or whatever entity has the most authority in a diocese. That’s where the rub would be, but it’s not like having a bishop. Getting pissed at a committee is like peeing in the wind. You never know where things will land. Maybe being a bishop would have helped me with my authority problem. Or, maybe I would have just started acting out against other in-charge types, like the President.