Even though I am trying to establish myself in a retirement career as a “travel writer,” everyone who has known me for longer than 24 hours knows I spent 45 years as a clergyman, a minister, a preacher, a pastor. I have been called a priest, a chaplain, and a bishop, as well as a few less flattering terms.
Often, when someone discovers my profession, they shift their attitude toward me, and not for the better. There are some folks who still hold ministers in high esteem. However, in the 21st century, religious people have a bad reputation. In spite of the faithfulness of hundreds of thousands of spiritual leaders, collectively, we have endured a diminished reputation because of money-grubbing evangelists, pedophile priests, terrorist Muslims, gay-bashing Baptists and fearful fundamentalists of all religions.
People of faith have to defend themselves that they are not like those “other” folks who have so sullied the good names of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. (I can’t possibly list all the religious traditions that hold deeply spiritual values in one short list.)
In social settings, casual friends provide an early warning system that lets others know that I am a Baptist preacher right off. That way, no one is embarrassed by using profanity or by misbehaving in some way. I have often heard this apology after an expletive, “Oh, pardon my French, preacher.”
Give me a break!
When I am in a setting where I think a person will hide is or her true feelings from me, I try to dodge the “clergy” label as long as I can. I am not embarrassed by it. I know who I am. But, I would rather hear what someone really thinks than to listen to a sanitized and pious monologue. I am an adult. I am not offended if someone is an atheist or an agnostic. If the individual is disgusting because of personal hygiene or a foul mouth, I know how to cut my losses and walk away. Or, maybe I can hang in there a bit longer and try to understand what makes someone tick who is, for whatever reason, repellant or revolting.
In our churches, synagogues and mosques, we tend to place our best foot forward. It can be refreshing to hear authentic unfiltered opinions, no matter how off-the-wall, rather than the pre-packaged, religiously approved hypocrisy with which we clergy are sometimes surrounded.
I resist being boxed into a stereotype about who I am. Cops do not all look alike and think alive. Professors do not all look alike and think alike. Mechanics do not all look alike and think alike. People of faith are as varied as people with no faith.
The world is a far more fascinating place if we don’t turn people into cartoon characters, predictable and boring. Instead, I enjoy listening, watching, paying attention and discovering real people. Pretense is one of my least favorite things.
Travel gets me out of my predictable routines and allows for unexpected interactions, conversations with people of other faiths, other opinions, other lifestyles. Getting out of my comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable, but I am a better person for it.
One of my favorite quotations is from Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”