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The Mantle of Piety

August 31, 2007

A few weeks ago a group of churches from our district held a “cluster” service in which folks from each church were invited to sing, play musical instruments, read poetry, whatever.  You can guess what I did.

I played guitar and sang.  The same night I sang at a local fifth Sunday service.  Both times I sang Bob Dylan’s song “Lord, Protect My Child.”  Easy chord progression, and right in my vocal wheelhouse (which is admittedly limited).   After the cluster service our District Superintendent asked me if I would be interested in putting together a 20-minute set for our district picnic.  I agreed.

I asked a few pastors what might be expected.  I had to miss last year’s picnic for one reason or another, and had never attended one before.  The folks I asked requested something light, funny, amusing – and not necessarily “Jesus music.”

I took them at their word.  My set included:

  1. John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me”
  2. Loudon Wainwright III’s “Dead Skunk”
  3. Fred Eaglesmith’s “I Shot Your Dog”
  4. My own “One Legged Chicken”
  5. David Wilcox’s “Rusty Old American Dream”

Just why songs about dead or disabled animals are funny to me, I don’t know.  In my hunt for funny stuff that’s just what I came up with.  (Yes, I just ended a sentence with not one but two prepositions!)

The crowd roared.  I received compliments left and right.  It was a blast.  Many pastors thanked me for having the courage to be irreverent and silly.

Courage?  No, that’s just who I am.

So the other day I got a phone call from the local leader of the retired minister’s association asking me to sing at their event in October.  He said it out loud:  “Everyone expects that in front of a bunch of ministers you’re supposed to sing a bunch of Jesus music, but frankly we get enough of that.”

David Greenhaw at Eden says that two things automatically happen when people find out you are a pastor or are studying to become one: they ask you to lead the prayer before meals, and they apologize when they curse in front of you.

Being asked to pray – I understand that one.  But apologizing when you curse?  It happens all the time, it’s true.  People have this weird perception that when you become a pastor you are somehow elevated to a higher plane where cursing, secular music, dirty jokes, and PG-13 movies suddenly offend you.  It is as though you have taken on some sort of mantle of piety that ordinary people don’t have, don’t want and believe they couldn’t handle.

Pastors are not extraordinary people.  We are ordinary people with an extraordinary calling.

Aside from Jesus himself, I can find no biblical example of extraordinary men or women called into God’s ministry.  I find numerous examples of very ordinary, very human people called to do extraordinary things or to proclaim an extraordinary word.

So why is there some weird expectation that a pastor should literally be “holier than thou?”  Yes, we are called to an intentional life of scriptural holiness – but especially as Methodists all Christians are called to that.  We are supposed to be very intentional about teaching that one.  As pastors we are called to a vocation of prayer and discernment; but physicians, teachers, mechanics, salespersons, nurses, shopkeepers and parents are also called to vocations of discernment in their various fields of expertise.

I am a pastor, and I am prepared to take on the baggage that goes along with that vocation.  But I am also a regular guy, an ordinary person.  I love the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  I love Fender Telecasters turned up loud.  I love blues music and folk music and country music and R&B and even some rap.  I love baseball.  I love dark comedy and Monty Python.  I love movies, even some R-rated ones.  I do enjoy foods other than consecrated bread and grape juice, and whatever is at the pot luck.

I do enjoy not thinking about church sometimes.   I like it when someone else leads the prayer.  I like it when a layperson can answer a Bible question that I can’t.  I like it when someone feels comfortable enough to curse in front of me and really be who they are without apologies.

Yes, I am very pious; and yes, that piety may take a different outward form than yours.  I very, very rarely wear a tie to church.  I will wear shorts, a printed T-shirt or Hawaiian shirt, and crocs or sandals to bible study.  I may loosen up my fingers before the service by playing “Hot Rod Lincoln” or “Misirlou” instead of “Lord I Lift Your Name On High.”  But I approach God with reverence and awe, I embrace holy moments humbly and passionately, and I am utterly convinced of God’s goodness and grace.

And I think God loves the authentic me every bit as much as God loves the pious me.   And God loves the regular you as much as God loves the pious you.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2007 2:12 pm

    Peace be with you, and thanks for the words of encouragement.
    Remember to have fun, and find time for yourself.

  2. September 2, 2007 5:41 pm


    Being a PK, your post brings back many memories of how my father struggled to find authentic friendships. Over time, he became a very active member of a fraternal service organization where he found folks that didn’t always suddenly become hushed when he entered the room. He has told me more than one of the less than proper jokes that he heard – with a twinkle in his eye!

    On another note, I was delighted to learn that my 22 year old son and his girlfriend are looking forward to attending a Bob Dylan concert at the end of the month. I’m not sure whether I feel old or young!

    Maybe there is something blowing in the wind!



  3. September 2, 2007 5:46 pm

    All the web 2.0 stuff is still confusing for me – this second comment is an attemt to get my blog address correct.

  4. September 2, 2007 7:39 pm

    I hope that felt as good to write as it did to read. That, my friend, was a great post! Thanks.

  5. September 2, 2007 7:56 pm

    You know, Ken, it did feel good to write. Reading it over again tonight I’m surprised at how bold it was, and it’s fun reading it “cold.” It was a blast.

    Thanks for the compliments, all.

  6. arachnerd permalink
    September 4, 2007 11:34 am

    Well, I’ve known you for over 36 years, and frankly I like the regular you better than the pious you! (Hehehe…)

    Well written, bro. Good to see you coming out of the blogging drought with a vengeance!

  7. November 1, 2007 4:11 pm


    I mentioned this blog, and the article in the UMR, recently in my blog.

    As John Mason writes, “You are born and original, don’t die a copy.”

    I’ve been doing this “minstry” thing for 20 years. One of the hardest things to do . . . is refusing to be shaped into something you just aren’t.

    We are not all square pegs. Personally, I am very, very, very round!

    I appreciate you!

    Rick >

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