S*** People Say To Ministers

I laughed when I saw this video, which is making the rounds, but I also winced.

In 1999, I was called to the home of one of my parishioners. She had been raised in a super conservative evangelical faith tradition and had vestiges of deep anxiety about what might happen as the calendar turned to the new millennium. She expressed embarrassment about her request, but asked that I come give her daughter a blessing of protection in case the world ended at midnight of 1999.

I went to the house. I gave mother and daughter a blessing. We talked for a long time. I was so glad she had trusted me with her anxiety. Old teachings and conditioning stay in our blood. That’s what pastors are for: to help heal, to do theological education and pastoral counseling, to listen.

A few days ago a guy came from the gas company. When he found out that I lived in the parsonage not as a renter but as a parson, he expressed surprise. “A woman priest?” Yes, I explained. And we talked. He asked me what I thought about the Mayan calendar and the predicted end of the world in May of 2012. I told him I thought it was total nonsense. He said a lot of guys at work have been bringing it up and discussing various theories, and we talked. He is looking for a church and I recommended a UCC congregation in the city where he lives. I took his name and number and said I’d have the pastor give him a call, because I know her.

I don’t know the people featured in this video, but they seem to be newbies in the ministry, and I am surprised by their jadedness and disrespect for the office of minister. Nothing personal, as I am sure that these are good, hard-working and faithful folks who were just having some fun. They seem like fun. But this video seems like a quick-and-dirty, fairly thoughtless jumping on the “Shit ______ Say” bandwagon. Not original, not very funny. I am especially upset by the way the seminarian-actors physicalize the typical questions that come to ministers: with contorted, mocking faces and “GEE, AIN’T THESE PEOPLE DUMBASSES” overacting. I get that that’s the style of the meme, but it does not become us.

Those dumb bunnies are also known as ordinary people. And we are called to respect those ordinary people and their questions, however irritating. By all means, call out the irritating nature of those questions. Respond to them. Write about them. Educate. Challenge. Contribute something.

Pointing and laughing is too easy. It is the sort of thing I see burnt-out, cynical ministers
“perform” at clergy retreats, and I know I want to keep my distance from that person. Look, we all rant. We all let off steam. But we usually do it somewhere where someone can challenge us, comment, warn us to get off our high horse, offer up a prayer for our evident unhappiness, retort on their own behalf, or tell us to take a vacation.

There is simply no way to mock the dumb questions people ask ministers without also mocking those who ask. And that’s a problem. Besides which, when people don’t know the first thing about clergy I consider that our embarrassment, not the general public’s. That’s how relevant we are. That’s how far we’ve stepped outside the confines of our own comfortable little churchy environments to connect with the world. The irony here is that these hip, supposedly witty and worldly seminarians are perpetuating the same kind of unwelcoming, insider attitude that has been destroying our congregations over many decades.

“Can you believe how many people ask us these stupid questions? *snick, snick*

Yea, why do you think that is? Because most people don’t have a clue what liberal Protestants are about. And do you think this attitude is going to help?

Funny coming from me, I know, who has put a lot of effort into being a publicly irreverent religious leader who wants to bridge the gap between buttoned-up, repressive 19th century clergy image and 21st century realities. I have paid a price in my own professional life for insistently pulling back the curtain on ministers and saying to the general public, “SEE? We’re just regular people!” That includes being honest about my snarky sense of humor, my dating life, my love for pop culture, and my anger. If the Church is ever going to really grow up and fulfill its potential we do have to stop setting clergy aside of special Holy People and start being God’s people together, as we are, warts and all. A minister isn’t someone who is born more pure, or who is more pious than the average person. We are people whose lives have been touched by the Holy Spirit, made demands of by that calling, and are passionately committed to sharing our love and our living faith with the wider community.

I, and my respected colleagues, have started too many important conversations with random people out of moments just like the ones lampooned in this video. I feel responsible for speaking on behalf of the people who ask say that “shit,” and to say that I do not appreciate media productions that portray clergy as laughing behind the backs of those who commit the unpardonable sin of asking us stupid questions.

We’re supposed to be the ones who love humanity in all its foibles. Most of these questions are harmless, and some are quite poignant. As I said before, if clergy take issue with the repetition of ignorant queries, we should educate, speak up, and write about it. I think it was a mistake to take a cheap shot at them, particularly as there is no way for those who make the remarks or ask the questions to explain themselves or to respond. It contributes nothing to the building up of the beloved community.





16 Replies to “S*** People Say To Ministers”

  1. >>I don’t know the people featured in this video, but they seem to be newbies in the ministry, and I am surprised by their jadedness and disrespect to the office of minister. <<

    I assumed they were seminarians. Wasn't that a brief glimpse of the ANTS chapel in the background in one of the clips?

  2. I haven’t played it either, partly because I just can’t get on board with the “S**T (blank) says”. I did laugh at and enjoy the “S**T my dad says” site, because it was created by a guy who obviously cared for his aging father and it touched a chord.

    This just comes off as a cheap knockoff. I find it frustrating (at least) and rage-inducing (at worst) because I just don’t understand why supposedly intelligent people feel the need to plagiarize other’s ideas. They did not originate or create the “S**T (blank) says” idea. And I agree with you that they don’t seem to care for or respect the people they work with.

    I also loathed the “Occupy Advent” and “Occupy Your Church Pew” facebook memes. For Pete’s sake, take the time to have your own original ideas.

    Finally, one of the graces of the work of a minister is learning to enjoy being around all sorts of people. This just seems so mean-spirited. [Yes. I was imagining watching it with a handful of my most open-minded, funny parishioners and I couldn’t see them really thinking it was funny in the least. Ministry is all about being asked the same “dumb” questions repeatedly over many years. Oh, sorry everyone in the world isn’t so tuned into clerical reality that they don’t know if you’re allowed to have sex or what you do on other days than Sundays. Geez, what dumb bunnies. ?? – PB]

  3. “Jumping on the bandwagon?” Of course they did! Clearly, you don’t understand the point of a meme. I see the whole point of this video to be “look, we’re going into ministry, but we’re people too.” As someone who’s well in the age range of these ministers, I’m drawn to them because they’ve shown a humorous, human side rather than continuing the holier-than-thou automaton act of ministers in older generations.

    I see this as a generational issue. I think that these young people have the personalities and 21st century interests that will reach demographics of society — the younger generations like me — who are overall, pretty alienated and disinterested in the way churches have been doing things since pretty much forever. I would love to find a church, but I’m not a fan of practices and professions that haven’t caught up with who we are and how we live our lives.

  4. A couple of quick responses, before I let myself get caught up too deeply in something I shouldn’t be.

    First, I’m really puzzled by Elizabeth’s I find it frustrating (at least) and rage-inducing (at worst) because I just don’t understand why supposedly intelligent people feel the need to plagiarize other’s ideas. They did not originate or create the “S**T (blank) says” idea. …. but that’s what a meme is. How plagiarism is getting thrown into the mix, I’m not sure. But I don’t want to sidetrack myself on the study of memes. If anything, the “Shit X says” meme might be at best tired and ready to be retired, and this video might be proof of that.

    Second, I do agree these are seminarians. I didn’t catch the ANTS chapel, but I did see the Newton Center train sign. (I’m not a local so I’m sure there are many other tell-tale signs.) But the other clue is that these guys are really just so young. While I do not clergy and seminary graduates that age, I’m still guessing that they’re still seminarians. And usually, when I do meet young clergy — they’re excited by their work. They’re really energized by their ministry. They don’t have the faux veneer of world-weary travelers whose personae as ministers is just so terribly misunderstood.

    Finally, while I didn’t originally share PeaceBang’s response, I’m pretty persuaded that this is a spot-on critique. I’m still not sure I fully agree with everything, but I don’t need to: the point is well-said. One point of divergence is that I don’t see this video as “disrespecting the office of the minister.” (Unless you mean, by not acting in a ministerial manner, the office itself is being disrespected?) If anything, I’d have to say they’re disrespecting the laity. [Yes, thank you. The office of minister, as I understand it, is to shepherd, inspire and love our people. All people, actually. That’s what I meant. Not mock them. – PB]

    I think maybe that’s the direction your critique moved me. Of the three Shit X Says videos I’ve seen (Gay Guys, Southern Gay Guys, Seminarians — shows my circles…) they’ve succeeded in part because they’re on target with their skewers but the strike is softened by the fact that they’re self-deprecating. Only a seminarian could really appreciate the Seminarian one, in which we mock our own steroidal gravitas. A Southern Gay Guy showed me that video, and I could hear his voice throughout it. But the point is, it’s us talking about us, and not us talking about others. We point fingers at ourselves and giggle a little. In this video, the ministers (or ministers-to-be) point fingers at others and roll their eyes. Maybe that’s part of the point you were raising, and I had to get there after some reflection. So thank you for pushing back on this.

  5. My favorite ones so far have been the “Shit people say to people in X demographic” ones just because the entire concept of microagression fascinates me and I’m still cooking through how to do it. That said, I don’t know that microagressions are really what’s going on here. (Also because “Shit White girls say to Black Girls” has a really excellent YRUU discussion built into it.)

    Though, of course, she was would be way too polite to do so, I’ve gotten the impression from asides in her column that Judith Martin could do a “Shit people say when they find out they’re talking to Miss Manners,” not because the people in the circles she travels in are stupid, but because there’s something about talking to Miss Manners that makes people anxious and say silly things. Similarly, I have a friend who is a psychologist who says that people often seem to think she can read minds.

    I wonder if this intimidation factor, and the rebelliousness that intimidation can breed in some of us, is what is behind some of the silly things that people unused to ministers sometimes say to them.

    who is hip to ministers and even got used to nuns at Georgetown, but is still kinda awkward around priests.

  6. Maybe it should be renamed “s*** ironic young hipsters expect to hear all the time once they become the world’s most po-mo boho ministers evah”. [This hits it for me. Right. It is the extreme unkindness of the delivery that really upset me. It broadcasts an “I can’t be bothered with these idiots” vibe, which is scary s*** for the future of the church, coming as it is from those who AREN’T EVEN MINISTERS YET. And it is those “idiots” who will be asking all sorts of boring, simple questions who will, maybe, ordain these seminarians and/or validate their calling in the world. This video should have been made by veterans in ministry. The questions would have been much the same, but the delivery would have been kinder, more gentle, and just way funnier. It needed a compassionate touch, not an arrogant pounding. – PB]

  7. fausto: Maybe it should be renamed “s*** ironic young hipsters expect to hear all the time once they become the world’s most po-mo boho ministers evah”.

    me: thumb-up/like button

  8. fausto: Maybe it should be renamed “s*** ironic young hipsters expect to hear all the time once they become the world’s most po-mo boho ministers evah”.

    me: thumbs-up/like button

  9. PeaceBang! Dearest! Thank you for sharing your opinion on this, I’m glad you did. I am a longtime reader of both PB and BTFM, and a big fan. I love that you are “a publicly irreverent religious leader who wants to bridge the gap between buttoned-up, repressive 19th century clergy image and 21st century realities.” I am 100% with you on this mission.

    I must admit, I am a friend and colleague of the creators of this video, and a current seminarian. I understand your concern and agree that some of these “Sh*t X say” videos can be abrasive and downright hurtful. But the hard part about parodies is that they are mirrors into our lives. The reason why we laugh and why we flinch is because some of it is true. I agree, there are many times when questions like these start wonderful and deep conversations; I’ve only been in seminary a semester and I’ve already experienced these encounters. Sometimes the reflection this mirror of a parody shows us is beautiful! It can open us up to conversations and interactions with the divine in a coffee shop, on a street corner, with a plumber. But sometimes the truth that a parody shows is annoying or hurtful or ignorant. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

    I agree, having seminarians portray these questions might make it seem arrogant, since they technically aren’t ministers yet. If this video had been “veteran ministers”, I wonder if you would have been as concerned with the portrayal? And honestly, at a point when you are changing your life from “normal” to “becoming a minister”, that is the time when you hear a lot of these questions. However, I do encourage you to make your own version of this– I’d love to see what comments, questions, and remarks you think would be worthy of a laugh!

    The point of these parodies is not to encourage insightful discussion and thoughtful conversation among the seekers of the world; it’s meant to be shared among colleagues to vent, laugh, and share the joys and frustrations of a common ministry. I don’t think my colleagues will put this video in their interview packet for the MFC, or before meeting with the governing body of their denomination. As you said, we all vent, “But we usually do it somewhere where someone can challenge us, comment, warn us to get off our high horse, offer up a prayer for our evident unhappiness, retort on their own behalf, or tell us to take a vacation.” That’s what this is.

    The community I have found at seminary is a perfect place for both “Sh*t Seminarians Say” and “Sh*t People Say to Ministers”– where we are “building the beloved community” and understanding our “growing edges”. Where we can “unpack” what it means when we make a parody of what people say to ministers, and what our response can be that follows in the footsteps of our faith.

  10. Peregrinato, I think, nails it both with his or her very funny one-liner about the po-mo bohos, and with his critique that the other videos point fingers at themselves, while this one points fingers at others. It’s ever so true that many of our society and culture are just not dialed into the clergy world- the “what do you do on Mondays” or “what faith are you” or “are you a priestess” questions are not ignorance. I experience them now as a person seeking ways to make connection.

    I suppose I’ve never really gotten the idea of meme- I’ve seen the forwards that catch on (“post this as your facebook status”, for example) but have not really gotten into the idea of memes, and I’m not comfortable with the idea, intellectually. Is a meme when you take someone else’s idea and present it as your own? What is the difference between co-opting the “sh*t my (blank) says” and co-opting CakeWrecks and making your own set of “DogWrecks” and “KidWrecks” and “iPhoneWrecks” and “PizzaWrecks”?

  11. On memes: Take a gander at http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2495/what-is-a-meme

    Sadly, the pomoboho one-liner was not mine, but Fausto’s. I do take credit for observing that this video is not self-deprecating but parodies others — which is why I just don’t buy Sarah N.’s glowing defense of video as parody as beautiful reflection in a mirror. (And a cautionary word: if a video is publicly posted on YouTube, then its audience clearly isn’t limited to colleagues.)

    (And you know me, imma “he”. (James Estes). I only now realized there’s a problem with the link to my erstwhile blog, so I need to talk to my domain dude.)

  12. “Sadly”, James? Have you forgotten our religious forefather John Winthrop’s admonitions? “…Wee must delight in eache other, make others’ Condicions our owne, rejoyce together….”

  13. I’m afraid that this video just confirms my perceptions of the disrespect for the laity held by some significant fraction of the clergy. And that there are more coming down the pipeline. [That makes me very sad, Tom. I know that wasn’t the intention but boy, I can’t help but feel the same way you do. I felt like singing, “Where Is the Love?” – PB]

  14. This one just keeps striking a chord with me, mostly due to just how Queen Bee and mean the video seems to me, again and again. I just hear the dismissive notes of “you are so much stupider than us” strongly. I was also discussing the idea of “memes” with my husband. Quite aside from my sense of phonetical dissonance (I want to call them Mee-mees, not meams), the concept of the internet meme as an idea that we all do a variation on just doesn’t work for me. I read the link from James E. above. I understand the concept of language as a meme, but internet catchphrases? Intellectually, I just have a harder time.

    Interestingly, just yesterday, I was at a bike shop, and got one of the video questions. The shop has seen me in my collar and so sometimes call me “sister”, but also have seen me in my bike clothes on a ride, so one of the regular guys who is also a friend who I see reguarly asked “So it’s your day off, really? They let you have those? What do you do?” It had nothing to do with stupidity, and we chatted about bikes and we laughed and he showed me the picture of the newest triathlon bike that the shop is getting. And you know what I asked? “Why would anyone want to put a water bladder in their bike?”

    He didn’t treat my question as stupid, but welcomed it as a chance to tell me a little more about his world taking care of hard-core racers.

    The asking “stupid” questions goes both ways. We need to get our heads out of own butts and interact with the world around us as human beings who have some sense of equality and fair play.

    OK, I’m back into my little world studying trauma psych and debating psych and spirituality.

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