Friday, October 27, 2006

Ahhh...The Subtle References

"La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas."

I love this quote. I finally came across the original author. Does anyone want to harbor a guess? (Hint: It was written in 1862).

And, for bonus points: what is the well-known contemporary film that references the English translation?

Grace & Peace

Monday, October 23, 2006

In Praise of "the Dash"

I love "the dash." I first picked it up reading Kerouac. Later in life, a friend was fond of writing long letters in the style of Kerouac and Ginsburg. I think I find the dash vaguely romantic and, when used correctly, a marvelous way to convey emotion.

Undoubtedly, the best definition of "the dash" that I have seen is as follows:

A dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than a parentheses.

(Bold and underlining added)

*from The Elements of Style, fourth edition, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, page 9.

Grace & Peace

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Hats Off" for the Clergy!

In God's Potters, Jackson Carroll puts forward the results of several years of survey and research on the nature and role of pastors in American churches. I was fascinatedby the number of hours that clergy report working in the survey conducted for this book. Carroll notes that mainline Protestant clergy report working 50.8 hours per week, higher than any other manager and professional group (averaging between 42-49 hours). This leads me to speculate on the nature of professional occupations in general, and specifically on the role of clergy: when is it okay to “take off the clergy hat” in the life of a minister in order to simply be a regular person?

In my experience, it is difficult for a professional in a recognized profession to ever take off that hat once it is established. For my friends who are doctors, even before they are licensed they become a source of free medical advice to their friends and family. My friends who are lawyers are always asked to give out free legal advice. Even professions like accountants and veterinarians are constantly asked minute questions about tax law or taking care of a beloved pet.

As it is for other professions, so it is for clergy. Once ordained (and often even in seminary), we are asked for “free religious advice” from friends, family, and even the occasional stranger. In the novel Gilead, the main character notes that, even while on a trip to another state, people recognize him as a pastor and ask him to “open up a little scripture,” or simply say a prayer. From the stories of more experienced clergy, it is not uncommon to encounter a stranger who, in learning of the profession of the clergyman, will ask him theological questions or will begin opening up about extremely personal issues in a “confessional” setting without ever “making an appointment” or even visiting the pastor’s church!

It is likely that this kind of interaction is quite simply “part of the job.” As clergy, this is the mantle we take on when we accept the responsibility of God’s call on our life. But even if that is the reality, how do we begin to practice the necessary “self-care,” especially as it relates to sabbaticals and downtime away from the profession, that is necessary to prevent burnout? How do we recognize, and work out, that “being a pastor is not the sum total of one’s life” (pg. 103)?

Grace & Peace

Currently Reading
"God's Potters"
By: Jackson Carroll

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"Hang on God, I'm Waiting for my Calling"

Work and Integrity” got me thinking about seminary, and religious education in general. As a society, we need properly trained engineers, doctors and lawyers. But I wonder why we are so committed to graduate-level education for pastors? What is this instinct that pastors need to have a Master’s degree in order to be properly “prepared” for ministry?

Until very recently, this level of education was not required for ministers. Even colonial preachers, who were required to have formal ministerial training, would enter college between the ages of 14-16, spend a few years studying (mostly liberal arts), and then move on to a church. During the Second Great Awakening, Methodist and Baptist pastors were often little more than itinerant prophets who experienced a profound encounter with God and felt called to share His love with others.

It seems that the “elite,” educated clergy model rests on a notion of “pastor-as-civic-leader” that no longer exists. There was a time, especially in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, when the pastor served as a focal point for civic organization and cohesion – like the doctor or judge. The pastor needed to be highly educated – not primarily for his religious duties – but so that he (and it was mostly “he”) could adequately lead the secular civic society. The current equivalent might be something like a city councilman. But is that what pastors are really for? Can you imagine a biblical story of God calling someone, only to have him or her say, "Well, that sounds good God. Now, if you'll just wait three years for me to get the necessary education, I'll be happy to serve." Yeah, right.

Nothing seems more foreign to me than sending a ministry candidate far away from his or her church in order to be “trained for ministry."

Grace & Peace

Currently Reading
"Work & Integrity"
By: William Sullivan