Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Doogie Howser, M.Div

I don't mind being The Young Pastor as much as I used to.

The reaction was almost immediate when I started. 'Oh, he's so young...he won't want to visit the older people.' This quote was relayed to me within the first month. I'd barely moved my stuff into the office and already I was the whippersnapper who wouldn't give the retired folks the time of day.

Being introduced to the community was what really got me, though. First swiss steak supper, I quickly found out that I could only fake a smile and laugh so many times when received with any of the following reactions: 'Oh, you're so young!' 'You're young enough to be my grandson!' 'You look like a teenager!' I mean really, do I have to pretend that this is the first time I've ever heard this, play like it's still the cutest thing that someone could say to me?

After a while, I started coming up with a running list of comebacks, some of which I've used, some of which I'm glad I've kept to myself.

'Ah, you noticed.'
'Yep. I'm eighteen. I'm Rev. Doogie Howser.'
'Thanks. I moisturize.'
'The fountain of youth is in the baptismal font. I'm selling vials for 50 bucks.'
'You're old enough to be my grandfather!'

Someone once bought the 'I'm eighteen' line (without the Doogie Howser bit). No kidding. They just stared at me in amazement, their jaw propped up on the pew in front of them. That only irritated me more. I finally snapped, 'I'M TWENTY-SIX!' I tried saying it with a smile, but I'm not sure how they took it because I walked out right after I said it.

I resigned myself to the fact that in that awkward stage where people are just starting to get to know each other and run out of things to say, this is what they resort to: a lame observation about my age. It's not unlike asking a really tall guy if he plays basketball or, God forbid, asking an overweight woman when the baby's due. You never hear, 'Wow, you're black!' or 'Hey, you're bald!' or 'Holy crap, you wear glasses? Me too!' Somehow, 'Boy, you're young' is acceptable in 'polite' conversation, perhaps in certain instances meant as a compliment but more often (read: always) comes off as condescending and a little rude. With observations about one's youth come somewhat masked statements about experience, maturity, and seniority, sometimes constructive, sometimes not so much. The majority of the time 'Boy you're young' slips out of someone's mouth, it is said in surprise, as in 'I expected someone older' or 'You can't possibly be the sole pastor here' or 'If you ever cross me I'll take you over my knee and send you to bed without dessert.'

So yeah, I'm getting over that now. Can't you tell?

I've come to view these exclamations about my youth in a more positive light. For one thing, being a member of a younger generation in a position like mine, I bring a different viewpoint than my older colleagues. You know the phrase 'youthful energy?' Yeah, I dig that one. I've got some of that, and I'm not afraid to use it. 'Boy you're young.' I sure am. And that means I can see some of the ways we need to step up certain things. I might pay more attention to when the youth are getting the shaft. I might be better at noticing that the 20-somethings have needs that aren't being met.

That, and there's a certain level of fawning that my ego loves. I'm willing to admit that. It's something I'm acknowledging and dealing with. At our ecumenical Thanksgiving service two comments were later relayed back to me: 1) 'Wow...he's cute,' and 2) 'Is he single?' I don't get treated like eye candy very often. It can be flattering in small doses. My wife gave me a good squeeze after I told her about these. It felt good to have her agree and to claim me all over again. So there.

So being The Young Pastor has its advantages and perks. True, one has to hear those stupid exclamations a few more hundred times and feign good nature (or does one truly HAVE to do the latter?), but coming from a younger generation, I can point out all those concerns that get ignored, and I get a few compliments in the process. I can even work the prejudice to my advantage. Guitar in worship? Oh, that's just Jeff being young. I can play that game. I won't be young forever though, so I'll get all the mileage out of this that I possibly can. And then when I'm old I'll know to give the new Young Pastor the benefit of the doubt.