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.