Thursday, July 13, 2006

Walking the Line

Okay, I have a story to tell you. It'll be the cliffs notes version, because I can't recount an entire night. Last September I drove over to a friend's apartment in Northwest Ohio for a birthday party. While he and I both count ourselves as Christians, I was uncertain of the religious makeup of the rest of the group, which was largely 20-something grad students.

Even so, I was introduced as Jeff the Pastor. Not with those words, but it was mentioned that I am indeed a pastor. It didn't seem to faze anyone really, and I actually had a decent conversation with one young woman about it, who seemed genuinely interested...or maybe she was just trying to be polite. Sometimes I can't tell.

Well anyway, this was my first time away from church members in a while, so I enjoyed myself. I nursed a glass of wine or two, and at one or two points got overly goofy (which is more my personality when I find a situation comfortable, yet many mistake for drunkenness if any amount of alcohol is there something there about our culture being stereotypical and uncreative that way? There has to be).

For months afterward--to this day, really--I wonder about the impression that I left on that gathering. I'm guessing that it ranged anywhere from, 'This dude's a pastor?' to 'This dude's a pastor!' Punctuation makes a difference. It really does. And so I pulled up Lutheranchik's blog this morning and read this:

Dear God -- please don't let me make an ass of myself.

No, it's not a line from the Morning Prayer. Although maybe it should be.

I've been praying this a lot lately, as my circle of face-to-face friends has expanded to include people for whom the Church is not a warm and fuzzy place of refuge...who, frankly, probably wouldn't be caught dead inside the institutional Church.


But the fact remains that I'd rather pop a brewski with a jaded, Christianity-antagonistic hard case than share "quiet time" with a paragon of piety any day. The hard cases are generally fun, funny, generous, kind people; people I want to go out for a beer with. I know that my Christianity makes me an odd specimen in their circles. And I want to "represent" in a way that leaves them with an impression other than, Oh, Christ, not another one.

I'm sure that at times I made an ass of myself over the course of the evening, but it was a different kind of ass-making than what LChik is getting at. I neither recited platitudes nor made judgmental remarks. I just sang The Proclaimers at a fairly high volume. So in some sense I think I communicated that I'm a Regular Guy, yet there's a voice left over from my Evangelical college days, worried and tattling, saying, 'Now, you have to conduct yourself in a manner worthy...etc.' And again, with a prevailing assumption that Loud and Stupid = Drunk, I sometimes wonder if I somehow helped validate someone's notion of Christian hypocrisy rather than help debunk their notion of Christian rigidity.

I have plenty of ammunition to argue against the 'Christian hypocrisy' bit at a theoretical level, so don't worry about that...if you were. This really is something that I've resolved for myself, but I sometimes relapse into old ideas and wonder whether my acting like a Regular Guy is for good or ill. Typing that last sentence made me realize how dumb this concern is.

I can't control how people react.

So I really should just let it go.

Nevertheless, LChik makes some good points. Go read the whole thing.