A small little pebble hits the glass of your pristine windshield as you are headed home, and everything starts to crack up. Perhaps the pebble was innocuously lobbed your way, with no intent attached to it the way you inevitably started interpreting intent to be there. Or, it could be an excruciatingly revealing pebble that lets you know that your glass was not as tinted as you thought it was.
Some fellow walks by you and you had seen him coming from afar. He is about your age, and you see him as an equal in many ways–a peer, a person who would not in any way be so superior to you as to be an authority figure or a much wiser, more mature old man who has seen and done so much more than you. His greeting is probably innocent enough, but at the same time you pick up hints of condescension, and the delivery and tone seem to carry a certainty that he only addresses young people and “special” people this way–men whom he sees as equals would not be addressed this way.
Of course, if you shared this experience with anyone, they would roll their eyes and declare you to be paranoid. You have no idea how he addresses other men who are about his age, although you suspect it’s something like “What do you say, Joe?” not, “And how is Joe doing today?” as if you were the kind of person who lived in your own little special person world and thought all about yourself–which anyone reading this blog would probably assent to this, except, you’ve at least made the effort to ask this fellow every time you see him how his studies and internships are going without feeling the need to interject with your own litany of things on your mind.
But then, there is this other fellow who rubs you the wrong way differently–he flatly refuses to walk in front of you into a door, even when you get there first and hold the door for him and insist on him letting you hold the door for him. He prides himself on being some kind of servant of the Lord or servant leader, but he calls you brother as if you were his equal. However, if you were truly his brother, then of course he would let you hold the door for him and buy him lunch now and then. It is excruciating to have someone who refuses to let you do anything at all for him.
There is a lot of this going on here–this competition to be the most Christlike in the sense of showing off who can be the most humble, poor in spirit and magnanimous–it is sort of the liberal Christian social justice version of the competition you witnessed growing up among Pentecostals to be the most athletic prayer warriors and tongue-speaking and hand waving during worship. It’s like Christianity hasn’t evolved much since the disciples were fighting over who would get to sit on the right hand of Jesus–we are all trying to outdo each other in how righteous we are based on whatever measure of righteousness we are using.
The first fellow I mentioned seems to be very much inclined to project his pastoral qualities in terms of how much more of a grown-up and leader he is–how magnanimous he is and how he can always be the bigger man and more fit to lead a congregation than the next person. And so, you are left sort of feeling like it would be rather impossible to get to know the real person underneath. Indeed, when you unveil some of your own real person, this is where he senses he can have the upper hand and treat you as if you were twenty years younger than you are.
Does this all sound pretty tedious and tiresome? Well, it is. It is tiresome to see these righteous athletes bragging about how they participated in this march or discussion, and then be incapable of mustering a hello to you when you pass by them around campus. It is wearying to be chided for not speaking up enough and then hear the insinuation that every word that comes out of your mouth is the voice of white privilege or mansplaining. It is beyond any reasonable human ability to discern how to behave around people who clearly have very specific ideas and rules about how to participate in worship and who should be in the mix of the conversation, and then at the same time get the communication that anything goes and we should learn to be more freeing of ourselves and revel in our freedom in Christ, etc.
I can’t really say that much of it is that different from any other social arena I’ve ever encountered, and I can’t even say that I was really expecting things to be all that different. However, I can conclude that I have grown less and less inclined to see that the path to following Christ more closely includes becoming a pastor or chaplain of some kind. If anything, a lot of pastoral callings seem to be more about becoming the right kind of organizational model person that a given denomination wants you to be. It is not much different from declaring that you are a good IBM person, or you are more of a start-up person. You are not really on a path to follow Christ more intensely but to be trained and finished to be a well-shaped pastor who can offer carefully crafted thoughts that seem to be spontaneous yet doctrinal, and who can properly schmooze people into staying with the church and increasing their pledges. The Christian aspect of it is simply a useful template or backdrop to being trained to help perpetuate the existence of the denomination and its holdings.
This is an incredibly cynical view of things, and I know that it doesn’t capture all of it–there are clearly some people here who really are authentic in their journeys to follow Christ–but I would say that this is just a “nice to have” character trait.