Mom, Please Stop Vacuuming the Red Carpet

I am a bit of a curiosity in town. I know this, and if I go out wearing the collar, I now expect it: cordial smiles from the nuns and nurses at the Catholic retirement home, curious stares from many people, trying to figure out if I should be called "Father" or "Sister" or something else entirely, nods of bewildered greeting from all manner of people on the street, from policeman to punk rocker wanna-be. All in all, it's usually a much more positive reaction than I would get in some other regions of the country and the world. And it's not so bad, most of the time.

But what I didn't expect is what happened to my parents on the other side of the country. In my hometown, they have become minor celebrities.

Because nobody else has a pastor for a daughter.

Whenever my parents attend social gatherings or run into people they haven't seen in a while, people nearly pounce on them and ask about me. How is she doing so far away from home? What do pastors really do, anyways? What does she do on the other days that aren't Sunday? Does she have any friends? Does she like being a pastor? What do people call her? Somebody once asked my mother, "How do you raise a child to become a pastor?" My parents shrugged helplessly. "We don't know," they said. "It just sort of happened."

I keep thinking people will get bored of this and eventually go back to their usual topics of conversation. After all, I'm just a curiosity to them, right? Ordained ministry isn't exactly on a lot of career opportunity radar screens. It's not a common aspiration. Hearing my parents say, "Oh, our daughter is a pastor in New York," is a little bit like hearing, "Oh, our daughter lives on Mars and makes her living relaying messages from outer space." No wonder people are curious. No wonder they are full of questions. But they don't seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Sometimes I dare to hope that the curious questions are more than just sideshow gawking. Because when people meet my parents, they are confronted with the fact that pastors are real people, complete with report cards, acne, high school dances, skinned knees, ponytails, training wheels, histories and lives. (My dad loves to tell people about the time I, at the age of five, intentionally stomped on my younger brother's finger.) Maybe for the first time, the questioners are realizing that pastors do not hatch from an egg of extreme holiness. Maybe they are realizing the humanity of pastors, that our job is not to perfectly render God to others, but to refract the holiness and mystery of God through a human prism so it won't blind others.

For my part, I am thinking long and hard about what this all means. It's easy to think that I can't possibly be relevant to these people who are not in my congregations, my area of the country, my denomination, or the Christian tradition. But people seem to care, not because of any pastoral skills I might have, but simply because I am some weird combination of a human called to the divine. That apparently still means something to people.

Comments

"pastors do not hatch from an egg of extreme holiness"

Thank you for this image, Katie! This explains something I just haven't been able to articulate on my own. It is SO true. Often I'm out drinking with friends only to have someone comment on how odd they think it is that I drink. Truthfully, I'm just as shocked by their assumption (which I think translates: "Aren't pastors supposed to be holier than us mere humans who drink?") as they are by the fact that I REALLY love me some Smithwick's Irish Ale. ;) Sometimes I even think that God engineered the importation of Smithwick's to the US just so I would stay in the country - leaving N. Ireland and my favorite beverage behind was just too much!

My parents get similar reactions, and they're always really puzzled by it, as they've never had any idea that pastors should be superhuman. There's a line in the movie "Keeping the Faith" about people wanting their clergy to be the people they don't have the discipline to be - which apparently includes a lack of childhood or adolescence :)

And Kate, your comment cracked me up. I share your love of the Smithwick's, and can well imagine that it would ease the pain of being away from a country you love. Smithwick's sooths all ills.

I really, really love Keeping the Faith.

And now I want to go try some Smithwick's!

If ever we finally manage to meet, we'll have to have a Keeping the Faith viewing, accompanied by a good supply of Smithwick's!

I'm sure we could arrange that!

Regarding this article, my mom says: "I really don't vacuum that much!"

Oh, this is so true!
My mom gets strange and silly questions all the time. Most annoying is the mother of my high school nemesis (a huge boy I managed to incapacitate through slapping him so hard on the ear, his eardrum was hurt. No, I'm not proud of it, but he sure deserved it), who every time she meets mom asks if I've hurt some one in the parish yet...

I loved the looks and smiles when you're wearing the collar. I went to donate blood a couple of years ago, and as I was lying on the bed hooked up to the equipment, the nurse looked oddly at me and asked, "Why are you dressed like a priest?"

"Um... Because I am a priest."

"Oh!" (shock and surprise)

"An Anglican priest. Women have been Anglican priests in Canada for 30 years."

(smiles) "Oh, OK...." (wanders away to tend someone less weird)

I think that, just as knowing your parents are "normal" has made some folks realize that clergy can be "normal," too, every time someone sees me grocery shopping or picking up my daughter from school or walking the dog or donating blood, while wearing the clergy collar, there is an inescapable sign that we are just like everyone else.

Which means that all human beings might just have equal access to the divine, just as we have equal access to the grocery store. Which, I suspect, might make some folks feel a little uneasy, after all....

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