Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Me? Cynical?

In the past two years I've had the privilege of mentoring some younger clergy.  (Why, we'll never know!)  I recall that, in my younger days, it was helpful to talk to older and wiser clergy who had already been around the block a few times, had seen it all, heard it all, and yet were still managing to hold on to a few scraps of hair with a smile.

I'm not sure I'm older and wiser, necessarily, but at least I can tell my younger colleagues that I've moved seven times, have served ten congregations, and have met, by now, tens of thousands of people (most of whom were elated to see me leave).  I've also kept a copy of Reinhold Niebuhr's pastoral memoirs, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic on my shelf for years.  It was a book recommended to me when I was a young whipper-snapper for its honesty, insights and guts about the real issues in pastoral work.

The book is severely dated now, and I rarely see it listed on recommended reads for new clergy, but the book does have a timeless quality to it that can speak to the trench mentality that many clergy eventually (and wrongfully, I believe) assume in their approach.

Me?  I don't believe I have ever succumbed to cynicism (though every pastor fights periodic battles of self-doubt, depression, listlessness, restlessness, loneliness, and even ego-mania, envy, or workaholism).

After 30+ years in the work, it's wonderful to arrive at the conclusion that cynicism doesn't work, and isn't very helpful, and that it is best to laugh about (and at) one's self and the church.  Most of ministry is failure.  Existence is messy.  God's grace is sufficient.  And there are few answers we can orchestrate or bring to fruition on our own.

In the coming days I'll be writing an article for younger clergy on recommended reading.  I suppose I'll keep Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic on my list. 

But I think Niebuhr needed to get his ticked punched more often!    

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