Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Lonely and invisible

I am still working my way through Eugene Peterson's book The Pastor: A Memoir. The other day I read the chapter on 'Company of Pastors.' He had been meeting with a group of pastors for a couple hours every Tuesday morning for twenty six years before he moved across the country. At the writing of the book the group was still meeting - going on forty two years. Having a company of pastors that I meet with myself every week - in our fourteenth year - I find it incredible that his group has lasted that long. It was also much larger than mine. My own has often just been Tom and myself. Even now it seems to have dwindled down to three of us again (maybe four).

At any rate, Eugene's 'company of pastors' was formed for the sole purpose of trying to figure out amongst themselves exactly what it is that pastors are (or should be/do). Rather than let a bunch of people who have no idea what a pastor does or is decide what they should do, they wanted to discern that for themselves. It is a good chapter. I wish I could convince my company to read it.

On p. 149 he points out something that really struck me. He says in one place:
We were pastors, a Company of Pastors. And we were pastors in a culture that "did not know Joseph." Our identity out of which we lived was unrecognized by virtually everybody, in and out of church... Which also meant that we were lonely, and sometimes angry that we were lonely.

Yeah... sometimes. Then he goes on to say in the next paragraph... He was talking about something Ralph Ellison had written about how African-Americans in America feel in his book Invisible Man. How being black made people 'invisible' to certain other people. And Eugene says...
In prisons, solitary confinement is the cruelest punishment. In society, nonrecognition is comparable. Our vocation made us invisible. A pastor in America is the invisible man, the invisible woman.

Certainly I don't think he is trying to say that being a pastor is as bad as being in solitary confinement in prison. But it does resonate with me - even only having been a pastor for thirteen years. It is lonely work. Which doesn't mean it is bad work; and it doesn't mean I think someone should be doing something about the loneliness. Maybe there is nothing that can be done. I wish it didn't have to be, but maybe that is the way it's supposed to be. I don't know.

This book makes pastoral ministry out to be a good thing - especially in comparison to most of the rest of the books on the market today. And I believe it is very good work. But I think the point trying to be made is that it's hard to understand unless you've actually done it. I know I didn't. And I'm not sure one can really even explain what it is to be a pastor to someone who isn't. It would be difficult at best. But I believe - and I believe what the book is trying to say here - is that it is work like no other; and it is work that if someone thinks they've got it all figured out and made it into an easy "living"... then they probably aren't doing it right.

But what do I know. I just wanted to write down these two quotes from the book. I like this book. Maybe because I feel like someone understands. Or something.