Not Even A Real Priest
Yesterday, Dec. 5th, St. Clement of Alexandria's Day, was the eight anniversary of my ordination in the historic orders of the Anglican Communion. It was also the seventh anniversary of my family's move to Nashville from San Antonio, Texas. (Over on the right you'll see a picture of my goofy self all dressed up in some of my priest gear).
In honor of the anniversary of my ordination, God brought me two pretty interesting moments.
The first occurred last night at Belmont University. Here is the set up. I was asked to come and speak at a convocation. At Belmont, all the students are required to attend a certain number of convocations. I discovered that this was the next to last one of the semester, so, needless to say, I had a fairly good turn out.
I had been invited to speak about the history of Christmas. When the nice young lady who asked me to come first contacted me, she mentioned hearing about "the history of Christmas trees, and how candy canes got their stripes." I told her I would be more than happy to talk about the history of Christmas, but the candy cane thing sounded awfully boring.
So I showed up at the club house of one of the student apartment centers. Now, I went to college (TEXAS LONGHORNS!). My dorm was a pit. This place was comparatively swank. Anyway, I brought an actual powerpoint presentation I had made. Once the tech guru got it loaded, I did my song and dance.
I felt like the whole thing went pretty well. It was kind of a tough room, given that only one of these people had ever met me before (Thanks T-- for showing up!). But I felt like it went well. I did this whole bit about how Christmas is several holidays with one name, and talked through the way these holidays all came/come together. I did my best to be funny and entertaining as well as informative. I tried to advocate for point of view, without being obnoxious.
Afterwards, several students came up to me and said that they liked the presentation. My greatest compliment came from a young lady who said, "I'm a Muslim, but I really liked what you had to say." That was a proud moment for me.
After talking to a couple of students, I went over to the table where many of the folks had left their evaluations of the event. There were maybe 20 evaluations. 16 or so of them were very positive, with the highest possible rankings and all kinds of nice words about yours truly. Words like "funny" and "knowledgeable" were used many times. Yes I'm bragging.
One of them was somewhat ambivalent, and three were not positive. One that wasn't positive seemed to have his/her expectations violated. The only comment on the form was that I had not talked about candy canes. I'm not kidding.
The remaining two were folded together. Each had given me very low scores. And each had a comment. One had commented that he/she didn't like it when "the priest cussed, more than once." That one made me think "did I cuss?" So, on the drive away I actually listened to the recording of the conversation. During the talk, I referred to a pagan Yule log as "bigass." I also said "crap" three times, as in saying that families in the U.S. spend $1700 a year on "Christmas crap."
(Is "crap" a "cuss word"? This is one I have never been able to figure out.)
Anyway, I am guessing that I was offensive in lots of ways (taking on Fox News, Willow Creek, modern Christmas traditions, Capitalism, the Church, Reformers, Pilgrims, etc,--something to offend everyone), but my language was PG.
The other comment, and this is the one I loved so much, was "I don't think this guy is even a real priest."
That one made my night. I imagine a young person, say 19 years old, who goes to a Baptist school. I imagine a person who has a certain expectation about what a priest or pastor is supposed to be. Old, staid, reserved, holy, pleasant, quiet, kind, etc. And here I come, just as awkward and crazy and loud as I can be. I'm talking too fast, I'm ripping through Church history, and I'm riffing on two-dozen topics in 40 minutes. I must have been quite a shock to the system.
All of this was followed up by the second event (this one is much shorter) that put the first one into perspective for me. Because, even though I like not being a "real priest," it also bothered me. And the cussing one bothered me, mainly because I know that is a real issue in my life (even if it was pretty tame--for me--that night).
Right after the presentation, I went to a birthday party for a dear friend M--, who is turning 40. At the party, I got talking to J--. He was born and raised Southern Baptist, has been attending a Presby church, and wanted to talk to me about Anglicanism (my Church tradition). Apparently, the night before he had had a conversation with M-- (who goes to my church). They were talking about me. This is my fictional reconstruction of a snippet of the conversation:
M--: You should visit my church.
J--: I would like to, but I don't know how I feel about Thomas being my pastor.
M--: What do you mean?
J--: Well, I had two pastors growing up. They were very distant, but I thought of them as great holy men.
M--: How'd that work out for you?
J--: Well, they have both left the ministry because they messed up, but at the time I put them on this pedestal. The thing with Thomas is that he's just a regular guy I know.
Thomas is just a regular guy I know. Put that one on my tombstone.
So, there it is. Am I bragging about myself and how "regular" I am. I'm not sure. What I really want to communicate is that I'm pretty much a dork, and I don't feel at all called to pretend I'm some sort of have-it-together super-pastor. And, if that means I'm "not even a real priest," well then all I want to say is "praise God."