I was reading an otherwise very intelligent and poignant article in which the priest said, “I do want to help people, but I have always felt chiefly called to help them by offering the grace of the sacraments and getting out of the way. Someone else can hold hands and sing Kum Bah Yah.”
It reminded me of another time I read, in a book I otherwise enjoyed greatly and still constantly recommend, a pastor saying something like, “I didn’t go to seven years of college and seminary to run a pizza party in the church basement.”
And these sorts of comments make me cranky and very defensive. Because holding hands and singing at a campfire, or hosting a pizza party in the church basement is frankly *exactly* why I went to seminary and why I got ordained and got ordained and got ordained. Not all of why. But very much why, and not as a peripheral after thought.
And given the human impulse to be defensive and see oneself in the best light, these sorts of comments hurt those of us whose call come through or is centred on pastoral care and youth ministry and community building. They implicitly rank sacraments and scholarship as superior. I believe in sacraments and scholarship, and would argue if you don’t know how to bring them into conversation with holding hands or serving pizza, you’ve got a theological problem, because you are not in fact ever too smart of a liturgist or Bible scholar for them.
But given a bit more honest reflection, I am not above this genre of sin. I just have different targets. I am prone to think or say things like, “I want to hold hands and sing kum bah yah, darn it, and not waste my time looking up the proper preface for the Eucharistic prayer of this feast day and practicing chanting according to the pointing in our parish binder* or sorting through a dozen receipts categorising them by budget**.”
A minimum of two theological problems come up with these sorts of complaints.
1. Rather than saying, “I am particularly called to this thing, not this thing,” we risk–sometimes implicitly, often quite explicitly–ranking the validity or worth of gifts and callings, which helps nobody in the body of Christ. The fact we all have different strengths and passions is Good News, capitalisation intentional. If you are a liturgical priest with great organisational skills who doesn’t feel comfortable with kids, for example, you and I need to resist having smug feelings about who the real priest is and realise that “Oh thank God you work in the kingdom of God, too!” is the proper response.
2. We did in fact all sign up for everything. We signed up to follow Jesus. There may have been certain parts of what we saw following Jesus entailing that made saying yes appealing, but ultimately in our Christian lives–and this is about all Christians, not just clergy whining on the blogosphere, all Christians–we signed up to follow Jesus, and only He gets to pick where He’s asking us to go. Yea though I walk through the valley of youth group lock-ins or parish budget meetings (see how spoiled we are?), I will fear no evil…
* actual gripe today
** actual gripe yesterday.