Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Pastor's Life Is a Salutary Scandal

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My back yard
In a recent post I wrote of a man in our community who insists on called me "Reverend," when I have asked him not to. The title "Reverend" boxes me in. I'm a follower of Jesus, and, like Jesus, refuse to be labeled and tied down to the culturally benign expectations of a "Reverend" in today's culture. I don't like the title, because it defines me into a box. Names and titles demarcate. When it comes to following Jesus any attempt to delimit the revolution is to be rejected.

Followers of Jesus live outside the cultural box. To follow him is not to fit into a "role." It's not to find one's place in the world. It is, rather, to participate in the exodus from this world into the not-of-this-world, counter-cultural kingdom of God.

Eugene Peterson says "we must do only what we are there to do: pronounce the Name, name the hunger... Our assignment is to the “one thing needful,” the invisible, quiet center — God."

Peterson writes: 

"Such restraint is not easy. Dealing with important matters, we assert ourselves as important. We do it, of course, in the name of God, supposing we are upholding the primacy of the One we represent and intending to build up congregational effectiveness. This is done with distressing regularity by pastors. But such posturing does not give glory to God; it only advertises clerical vanity and contributes to congregational inanity. We are only hogging the show. Resplendent in robes and “reverends,” busy with programs and projects, we fashion yet another golden calf, of which the world has more than enough." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, pp. 87-88) 

The title "Reverend" compartmentalizes me, falsely dividing the sacred from the secular. Writing from his place in a monastery, Thomas Merton says:

"I do not have the official “space”—sanctified, juridically defined, hedged in with elaborate customs—of the monastery as my milieu....  My space is the world created and redeemed by God. God is in this true world, not “only” and restrictively a prisoner in the monastery...."

Merton was uninterested in filling some "sacred" role just because society expected him to. He writes:

"My life is a salutary scandal, and that is another proof of the reality of my vocation, I believe. Here I see my task is to get rid of the last vestiges of a pharisaical division between the sacred and the secular, to see that the whole world is reconciled to God in Christ." (Merton, A Year with Thomas Merton, September 13) 

My new book is - Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.