Monday, September 18, 2006

Ask Me Something Else

I officiated at the wedding of two close friends from high school over the weekend. Friday night and Saturday had to be some of the most fun times I've had this year. I got to participate in one of the biggest and most wonderful days in this couple's life. At the same time, a few other high school friends got to see me "on the job" for the first time, which I was a little nervous about. The groom's sister commented later that it was weird to see me act so serious during the rehearsal.

This was also the first wedding at which I gave a homily. It's only my third wedding ever, but I wasn't sure what to talk about. I didn't want it to be too sappy or too forgettable or too run-of-the-mill or too...well...stupid, i.e., "make sure to put the toilet seat down HAR HAR." I finally decided to focus on what covenant is because it gets mentioned a few times in the liturgy but not really explained, and since we were using the well-worn text of 1 Corinthians 13, I tied it into explaining that the type of love being described is not a fleeting Matthew McConaughey-movie romantic love.

I got complimented for the whole thing at the reception, which felt good, but I had taken on quite a different demeanor by that point. It wasn't that I wasn't having a good time and it wasn't that I was mad at anybody and it wasn't that I was upset at how the ceremony went and it certainly wasn't that I was nervous about the Michigan-Notre Dame game (BOO YAH, by the way).

I just didn't want anyone to ask me about my church or my ministry.

There's something about our culture where people tend to define themselves and each other by their careers. So what do you ask The Pastor about at a wedding? Apparently you only ask him about where his church is and whether there's anything special coming up there. How long have you been there? How long have you been a pastor? Have you done many weddings before? What denomination are you? Oh, we have one of those near us...

I know that I'm recognized as The Pastor for the entire duration of these festivities, but really, today I'm The Pastor because I've been friends with these families for ten years. We all attended Small Town Varsity Blues High School together. We were in the band. We ran around on the weekends together. The groom and I just played golf the morning before and I totally sucked. Ask me about any of that. In a setting like this where polite socialization is the rule I'll never be asked my life story, which is fine. And I understand that for people who don't know me, being The Pastor is a handy point of reference. But I really had no interest in talking about those things. At all.

Honestly, this is becoming more of a regular tendency for me. Occasionally I'll accept an invitation to a congregant's house for some sort of social gathering. Pastoral boundaries dictates that one doesn't hash out church issues at those types of things anyway, but even some smaller references to some church program or another meets with relative silence from me. It's not that I shouldn't talk about it...I just don't want to. That's not why I'm there. Sure, I'm The Pastor, but I'm just here to hang out, break bread, play a game. I'm here to do anything but talk about church. It's not why you invited me and it's not why I accepted.

Here's where critics might say something about evangelism opportunities or whatever. If faith comes up at a social gathering, that's fine. That's different. We can talk about God if you want. I'm fine with talking about God. I'm not Bible Answer Man or anything like that, but I like to think that I know some things. Just don't ask me about work. Don't ask me about the youth program or what's happening in worship or the committee meeting or the parking lot. Don't ask me about sermon prep or Bible study or how I budget my weekly hours or whether I visited so-and-so. Don't ask me about denominational pronouncements. I'm more than a pastor, and being your pastor might have gotten me this invitation (or because I'm my wife's husband)...but it's not what I want to talk about. I watch movies and listen to music and read books and watch baseball.

This all came together in one glorious moment a few weeks ago. I was at one such social gathering and a young guy in his first year of college mentioned the movie Boondock Saints. I commented that I liked the movie, and he just got this look on his face. My pastor likes Boondock Saints? Even more glorious was when he found out I have two tattoos. It was weird for him to think that I'd left the church long enough to run these errands before returning to my cot in the fellowship hall to resume my daily 12-hour prayer vigil.

Maybe this is about public perception. Maybe it's not just that we tend to think of each other by career. Maybe we also tend to think that the pastor in particular only does church things and is too sheltered or too holy to have a life outside of ministry.

Well, there's one sure-fire way to find out.

You ask about something else.