Saturday, May 30, 2020

The black badge of courage. . .

Some years ago I was pumping gas, minding my own business, but wearing a clerical collar.  The fellow across from me glared at me like he knew me and I had offended him.  I smiled and kept on pumping my gas.  Then he spat on the ground in front of me and muttered that I was a blood sucking leech.  I mumbled something back like I was sorry he felt that way and then both of us were done and we got into our vehicles and left.  Being identified as a pastor or priest is not necessarily a good thing.

A few years before that, I was at a gas station during one of the price bumps and was filling up the third car in our household only to realize that I was spending $200 on gas that day!  I was not smiling.  A couple in their late 20s or early 30s came over and said, "Hey, Father.  We are short and cannot afford to fill up our tank.  Can you give us $50?"  I responded that our congregation did not provide gas funds and I was personally cashed out.  Their response, "In other words, you are a worthless piece of s__!"  "God bless you," I said.

When I fill out my taxes and find that I owe more than most workers (except others considered self-employed), I cringe at the cost of the vocation.  When somebody hangs up on me because I cannot or will not give them the money they want and expect, I feel like a worthless piece of s___.  Those who presume that pastors are uniformly admired or respected or treated especially nice have not spent time in a clerical collar in the South.  Sometimes I am happy to be ignored.  It could be worse.  Yet I continue to wear the collar and point to the fact that I am a pastor (or priest).

I salute those who wear the black badge of courage in places where it does not offer them any real benefit and may incur a cost.  It is not easy to stand for the Church -- with all the news of sexual predators, financial scandals, and the charge of hate speech.  But it is a small price to pay to give symbolic presence to the Church in places where people may not expect it.  You may have to bear a burden for it but it goes with the territory.

If you are one of those who has chosen not to be publicly identified as clergy, that is your choice.  It is an easier choice than to wear the black badge.  But I would urge you to reconsider.  The presence of the Church in the public square is in grave danger of being restricted and this is one way that we can make a statement without even opening the mouth.  God sees the heart but man judges by the outward look.  So wear the clerical and act the part.  There is more riding on it than you might imagine.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

At one time, clergy received more respect indeed. We know that the pastoral vocation is held in disdain by many people. I suppose it is because for some, looking at the collar reminds them of their own sins, and down deep they fear God's judgment. Some believe the church consists of self righteous hypocrits. It is a burden to wear the visible collar in a sinful world, but so it goes for Christians in every age, and the prophets of old would agree. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile vocation, and you have been called to it. The scorn of this generation is the price of wearing your collar.

Archimandrite Gregory said...

And yet because i was in monatic habit, some years ago a woman sat next to me on a ship and poured out her heart. A week later I received a note from her thanking me for being visible. Prior to our conversation she was planning to plunge into mid michigan lake. We never know when God will use us.