"When someone finds out you are a minister, sometimes you have to listen to more than their theories about God and the church. You also may have to deal with their assumptions about ministers." (Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling)
Well, at least I feel a little better about my hesitation to announce that I'm a pastor-- after reading the chapter in "This Odd and Wondrous Calling" entitled "So, you're a minister." It never fails that someone will introduce me as a pastor in a group setting, as if explaining what I'm doing there. (Oh, you know...she's the minister... I had to invite her-- she represents Jesus, after all. Thankfully they do not actually say this out loud, but it's always present in the exchanged looks.) And usually if I know the person doing the introducing fairly well, I'll (almost) teasingly say something like "Hey! I was blending in just fine!" But some part of me isn't kidding. The reactions I get when folks find out that I'm a pastor never seem to be terrifically positive. First of all, depending on the crowd I'm with, the fact that I'm both young and female registers with the hearer in a visible way. Again, thankfully, most folks do not actually say those things outloud, but it's always apparent that they've realized that I don't really fit their notion of what a pastor looks like.
But the second, and probably bigger, reason why I don't go around boldly proclaiming what I do for a living is that people change how they are around me. All the jokes they would like to tell either get cut completely, or ridiculously sensored so that they're not really funny. If they were drinking, the tendancy is to try to cover it up. I guess in their minds, ministers are so holy that they are offended by these things, but easily offended I am not.
I try to dodge the question "So, what do you do?" but never successfully. If I had a good answer, I might be inclined to stretcth the truth a bit. "Oh, I'm a writer" (True). "I'm a public speaker" (True). "I design websites" (True). "I'm a secretary" (True). Somehow, though, I can't ever quite convince myself to do that.
And every now and then, I'm glad that I can't. I was getting my hair cut the other day and generally cutting up with the fun loving women in the shop. As it invariably does, the "what do you do?" question came up, and I answered it honestly. Thankfully, the fun-loving women didn't make a terribly big deal about it, and only censored themselves a little bit. But when I left, I noticed that the woman who had been her hair cut in the booth next to mine was sort of hovering around outside. "Where are you a pastor?" she asked. I tried not to grimace as I was thinking "Crap, crap, crap...here it comes." But I told her. Then the story came out that she was in a church where she was unhappy, but had been going there because that's where she was raised. She said "it seems to be only about rules and what I can and can't do. I don't feel like it's a community, and I can't tell you the last time I saw the pastor really laugh. But you have a beautiful laugh, and you seem like you have a lot of fun wherever you go. I'd like to go to a church with a pastor like that."
I don't know if she'll ever turn up at my church, but either way, at least for that moment, I was glad I had been honest about my calling. I've never been great at wearing a "Preacher mask", but what she needed to see then was a real person who also happened to be a real Christian.
"So you're a minister?"
"Yes, yes, I am."
"Graceland" is the name of my favorite song and album. It's by Paul Simon, but more importantly, it's what "home" sounds and feels like to me. We always listened to this album as we traveled from my home in Tennessee to my parents' childhood homes in Florida. But today, it's also a pretty good snapshot of my theology. Somewhere I really believe that the Christian journey is all about a wild trip to Grace-land. As I see it, Grace-land is the place where God is waiting to meet even us–with all the baggage and brokeness that we tote with us. Grace-land is the place where we will be received with open arms, even though our attempts at “getting it right” have been miserable failures at best. But, I think, every step we take is a step on the journey to Graceland.