Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gilead and other things I've been told I MUST read or watch

About 3 years ago, I was given a copy of the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I was told it's a MUST read, especially for those of us serving in the pastoral ministry. Maybe one of my many facets of immaturity is that I do not tolerate being told what I MUST read or watch. Even though I participated in a workshop engaging in a discussing of Gilead, I took a trip back to high school and some college days and did not complete the reading. Being told to read Gilead because I am a pastor brought up horrific memories of being told to read the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Karon was celebrated at the seminary I attended, so I tried reading a few of the books. I was deeply troubled by the book, namely because the stories glorified an unhealthy clergyperson as quaint. This pastor in rural North Carolina had not taken a vacation in several decades, and he was seen as a good pastor and a lovable loser. Granted, there are very few, if any, positive examples of clergy in popular culture, and I'm not sure if pastors should hope for more positive images.

Many people I respect have loved Gilead, namely L. Gregory Jones from Duke Divinity School. Yesterday, I returned from a long driving trip and attempted to maximize my time by listening to a book. I finally gave Gilead a chance to inspire my imagination. I found the book droning, tedious and overly sentimental. This may have had something to do with the voice of the reader. What did resonate with me was the relationship with preaching that every pastor develops. John Ames develops a respectful relationship with his prepared sermons. Sermons are deeply personal--representing years of scholarship, nuanced and passionate hopes, fears and beliefs. The preacher is essentially bare in front of the congregation. Though Robinson does not personify the sermons per se, there is a relationship between preacher and sermon. I am thankful for this portrayal of the homiletical exercise. I also appreciate Ames' longing love for a child--I have learned in my own parenthood that this is one of the greatest insights into God in my lifetime.

Gilead is significantly more valuable than Karon's works. I believe that defining, depicting, portraying the Church and the pastoral ministry is an enigmatic undertaking. I find I am sensitive about these definitions because I am still optimistic about what I can be as a pastor and what the Church can be in congregational and community life. I have drifted from the altruism of my earlier days of ministry, but I'm still hopeful. Congregations and pastors are sinful and flawed. Unlike God, I have a hard time overlooking some flaws.

In reading a book about the Pacific Northwest called The Good Rain, I learned about a slogan of the town of Astoria, Oregon, in the NW corner of the state--at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean. "We ain't quaint." I don't care for portrayals of the Church as quaint. This is where Gilead and the Mitford series meet--quaint portrayals of the Church. In looking at the definition of quaint, I see obsolete, strikingly old fashioned and unfamiliar. Reagardless of my own personal optimism regarding the Church and my own flaws and sins, I have no desire to be part of a quaint Church. I am glad to engage in the discussion about the Church selling its soul to be relevant. This is a worthy discussion. But I have no desire to be part of the quaint.

And...just because the ABC television network says that "Life On Mars" is the "next great cop show" doesn't mean I have to watch it.