Thursday, September 17, 2009
Pithy, Positive, and Perky
I recently read a satire on the frustrations of the man whose job it is to write the fortunes slipped into those cookies at the Chinese buffet. I wish I could remember where I read it. The man was bordering on the brink of insanity as he tried to come up with vague but specific, general but personal, wise but humorous, serious but upbeat sayings -- all that fit on a piece of paper roughly 3/8 inch by 1 1/2 inches.
It occurs to me that sometimes we as Pastors find our selves in much the same boat. Though we have a bit more space than the shred of paper placed in those fortune cookies, we are under pressure to produce pithy, positive, and perky "talks" that can easily be summarized on a tweet (the electronic version of the fortune cookie).
It is a prison imposed not by the call of God mediated through the Church or even by one of the various boards or committees of the congregations we serve. This prison is often of our own construction though we have plenty of help from a world captivated by a few seconds of video and thirty seconds of sound bites.
I will admit that the positive and perky part is more from us than the world. We don't want to appear mean or curmudgeonly and we don't want to be judged to be negative. Like the parent who wants to be friends with their children, we as Pastors want to be liked -- oh, heck, we want to be loved. Let's just say it out loud.
We have come down off our Herr Pastor pedestals because we were willing to exchange admiration for affection. People tend to like it either positive and upbeat or yelling at somebody other than those present. It gets old yelling at people who are not there so we settle for being perky in the pulpit.
This point came out to me when some of those to be confirmed this year noted that I seemed to be different people in the chancel than in the classroom -- not night and day but different. I asked them what they meant. In the classroom they thought there was more of my own personality coming through but they thought it was more hidden in the liturgy. And well it should be.
In the classroom setting I do not shy away from humor or a good story but in the pulpit I tend to stick with Scripture -- unraveling and applying the texts from the lectionary for that day. I think that vestments are a good helper in maintaining the distinction between the Pastor who leads God's people in the liturgy and who proclaims to them the Word of God and Larry Peters the man who occupies the office. I think the clerical collar also helps in this regard. As long as I wear these things I am reminded by this clothing that it is not me but the office I occupy that is important.
But don't let any Pastor fool you -- we are all tempted to shed the collar and the vestments and stand in the spotlight to make you laugh, to inspire you, to get you to know how wonderful we are, and to leave you with a short, pithy, positive, and perky phrase to highlight the rest of your day -- in short, we want to be liked and loved. It is this weakness that can be our terrible downfall. We need to be loving but the affection of those we serve is not our goal -- rather, faithfulness to the office and faithfulness to the duties of that office. I fail miserably in my vocation as Pastor if I forget the importance of the office and the unimportance of the person (me).
And just maybe there is some hope for confirmands who noticed this... these kids often amaze me even as they challenge me and teach me as I teach them...