While I was a pastor, I became friends with a man who'd retired after many years as a reporter and editor for a major newspaper. Over the years he told me stories from his journalistic career-many of them humorous, others indescribably sad. The force of his tales came from the context of relentless evil in which they were set. My friend was a reluctant but frequent observer of human cruelty, greed, exploitation, and immorality. When I mentioned that fact to him, he did not disagree.
"After you've been in the news business forty years," he said, "you tend to develop a cynical and suspicious edge. You've heard every kind of lie, you've seen every species of corruption, and you've been witness to the sleaziest sorts of performances by folk the public thinks are saints and heroes."
I asked him how he maintained his spiritual life amid such an environment. "Don't you feel sometimes as if you're living in a cesspool? How do you avoid becoming polluted inside?"
"I'm not sure I've always kept spotless," he responded. "By the end of the week, I've often felt like a dirtied-up human being. That's why when I head into church on Sunday I need something to dean me up-a spiritual bath."
This friend did more than anyone else to confront me with what it means to pastor on a Sunday morning. I realized his plight, while somewhat dramatic, was basically the same as that of most people who come to worship. Whether they know it or not, they also come out of a world saturated with evil. All of them need a bath. I began to wonder whether we provided it.
Years after being alerted to this question, I preached at a worship service led by a friend, Bishop George McKinney of the Church of God in Christ. It was clear he knew something about spiritual baths ...