Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, February 19, 2018


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…

When I pastored in Hoopeston, IL, we invited all the pastors, various denominations, and their wives to our house for supper occasionally. One night. Dirk was there, with his wife, Barbara. He was the Lutheran pastor. Dirk and Barbara reminded us of George Clooney and Elle MacPherson, except better looking. After supper I was carrying dishes to the kitchen and Barbara followed me, which frightened me a little. Normal people are not sure how to deal with beautiful people. She plunked some dirty plates down on the counter and sniffed. “I hate your wife,” she said.

I was dumbstruck. Nobody hates Helen. Every church I ever pastored, plenty of people were glad when I left, but everybody wanted Helen to stay.

“Why do you hate Helen?” I asked. Barbara almost teared up as she said, “She makes being a preacher’s wife look so easy, and it’s NOT!”

All I could tell her was, “Barbara, Helen makes it look easy because she is not the preacher’s wife. She’s just herself. That’s always easier.” [1]

I thought of that incident last Lent when I realized that from the age of 14, I had always been the preacher, never just myself. I had been a professional Xn all my life, never just myself, never just a regular Christian. At the start of that Lent last year I had just had a birthday, one that ended with a zero. Not a double zero, as some have suggested, but still a significant number. I realized that time for new learnings was running out. If I were ever to find out if I could be myself, just a regular Christian, I had to do it soon.

So I decided on a professional Xn fast. [2] I told our pastors that I would not sermonize or pastorally pray or any of that preacher stuff. They agreed. In fact, they looked quite relieved and were almost unseemly in their willingness to cooperate. As Lent went along, I realized that forty days, not counting Sundays, would not be nearly long enough, so the fast was extended to a year.

So, for a year, I have been a regular Christian, a lay person.

What do lay people do? As my old Academy of Parish Clergy friend, Father Joe Dooley, used to say, “All we require of Catholics is to pray, pay, and obey.”

So I prayed, and paid, and obeyed. I did lay person stuff. I took the backpack Sunday food to Community Kitchen. I brought bars of soap and sticks of deodorant for jail bingo. I was on the hospitality committee, to which I agreed only because it is a committee that has no meetings.

I went out into the world each day to do the will of God. Of course, in my case, going out into the world means lying on the sofa looking at Facebook, but that’s sort of like being in the world.

Most importantly, I criticized the preachers, since that is a regular Christian’s first responsibility. I provided “help” for our pastors, remembering always that the job of a regular Christian is just to point out the problems, not to provide solutions for them. Solutions are the job of the professionals. 

A new Lent is starting now. My professional Xn fast has ended.

It was a miserable failure.

Professional Xns have so much insulation. When we show up, people say, “Got to stop cussing; the preacher’s here.” If you are a woman preacher, you aren’t subject to nearly as much sexual innuendo as most women have to put up with. [You’re not home free, but there’s not as much.] We get discounts. We are called “Reverend.” We get to wear robes and collars and stoles and crosses so people can’t see what we’re really like underneath all that. We get to hide behind solid oak on three sides.

Regular Christians are out there every day on their own. They’ve got no special degrees, no special attire, no insulation, not even very good instructions. We professional Xns just say, “Love everybody.” We don’t tell how to do it, because we don’t know. Regular Christians just have to wing it.

I’m fortunate to know folks who make being a regular Christian look easy. Those of us who can’t make it as regular Christians, and have to keep on being professionals, we admire you, because we know you make it look easy when it’s not!

The Rev. Dr. JRMcF

1] As some readers will recognize, like most writers, I like to get more than one use out of a story.

2] Professional Christians use Xn as shorthand for Christian when we make notes, but it’s also an ancient and early form of referring to Christ, Xristos in Greek.

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