I have such an interesting and fascinating life, so diverse at times that I lose myself and wonder who I really am. Sunday mornings always remind me of this part of my life, since it is the penultimate moment in my week when I will speak with at least a couple hundred people in snatches of conversation that keep me updated in their lives. My parishioners are an interesting and wondrously diverse group of people.
This is the first church I have served in my pastoral work where we have individuals represented from all age groups, from the tiniest of babies to the oldest of senior citizens, with every age group in between. This means, too, that the expectations they have for me as their pastor are quite varied. Our oldest parishioners would love for their pastor to visit them once a week, sharing a good word, Holy Communion, and an animated conversation of at least two hours' length. This seldom happens. Young families expect (and rightfully so) that I will remember each of their children's names whenever I might see them. This usually happens. Middle aged people expect that I will recognize the busyness of life and not ask too much of them. I usually meet this expectation. And then there are those, age notwithstanding, who simply want their pastor to be on a pedestal, someone who is a source of strength and a symbol of all they hold dear. This is an expectation I can seldom (if ever) meet, but it does make some feel better to fantasize that their pastor is always stable, deeply spiritual and readily available.
Kind of like my kids. My twelve children are also a diverse group in terms of age, life experience, background and expectations of their father. My kids want me to be available for them (whether it's a ride to the YMCA or to a friend's home or to a sporting practice). My kids want me to be a paragon of virtue, even if they are not (another blog post coming soon on that). My kids don't want me to become frustrated at my situation in life, irritable at their inconsideration or intolerable of frequent boundary-crossing episodes.
It is, then, always good when someone challenges those assumptions and catches me off guard. It is refreshing and a bit off-putting, but a moment for me to smile at my humanity once again. The one thing about being a pastor and being a parent that I find so very hard is that no one wants me to be all that human. The expectations are high, the potential for disappointment and disillusionment always lurking in the corner of my being. This, in spite of my best efforts to show myself ordinary and human, honest and authentic.
This morning I had the opportunity to be human, not a parent, not a pastor, but a human.
During our post-service fellowship time I sat at a table comprised of senior citizens, usually an innocuous group who have a tendency to emulate their pastoral presence. We had been chatting for a few minutes. I learned that the lady sitting to my immediate left had just celebrated her 82nd birthday. She is a woman who is always carefully dressed and manicured and truly looks about a decade younger than she is. I commented on that, and she smiled approvingly and then asked how I enjoyed my trip to Washington, DC, earlier this summer. (I had mentioned the trip in my sermon this morning). I responded that I had a great time, reveling momentarily in the events of that week. "How did your wife enjoy your time there?" she asked inquiringly. "Oh, Claudia stayed home; it was just our oldest son and I who were there," I responded.
Setting her coffee cup on the table with an adroit poise she looked in my eyes and said, "So did you hit the bars and strip clubs?" A smile crossed her carefully created face as I bumbled for words. "Well, that's not really how I live my life," I pleaded. "Well, if your wife was home and your son is an adult, it would have been a perfect opportunity," she teased. By this point my face was feeling a little flushed (not from guilt but from surprise), as she responded, "Oh, pastor, you don't need to blush."
Ah, but my dear elderly friend, I do need to blush, even if from surprise. I need to feel human now and then, instead of the creature so many others want me to be. I would like, now and then, to simply be a human in the world, not a pastor entrusted (burdened?) with the spiritual leadership of a congregation. I wish I could be simply a nondescript parent, not the "adoptive parent" (rah rah) of twelve kids with special needs.
For any number of reasons, my escape will not be in bars and strip clubs, but I wonder where it will be? Where will I find the solace I seek, where I can simply be who I am, another well-meaning, often bumbling, peon in the mass of humanity?