On Saturday my wife and I went back to our alma mater for the wonderful event that is Homecoming. It was a sunny fall day, a little warmer than we expected. Our football team lost a heartbreaker to a disliked (but not bitterly hated) rival, and during the game we talked with several of my fraternity brothers who were back for their 10th reunion.
Whenever I meet an old friend who didn’t know that I was a pastor, I always hold my breath for a moment before I tell them. I anxiously await the small-talk to progress because, “What do you do?” is always among the first three or four questions in a conversation such as this. I’m not sure why I have anxiety about telling an old friend what I do for a living. Perhaps it is because they just know too much.
“I’m an accountant for Bork Bork Inc. in Chicago,” says Fraternity Brother A. “What do you do now? Are you still doing the sportswriting?”
“No, I’m a pastor of a small United Methodist Church in Chenoa.”
At this point I fear a mainly two different responses:
- “Oh, that’s cool. So uh… Oh, there’s Fraternity Brother B, I’m going to go say hi.”
- “Really? You’re a pastor? Didn’t you pass out in my bathtub once?”
I think most of my fear comes from the absurd mental juxtaposition of me as fraternity brother, passed out in someone’s bathtub, and me as pastor, baptizing someone’s baby. But I know that’s not entirely fair. We all have pasts. Pastor or not, everyone has moments of which we aren’t particularly proud. I know though, that I am not imagining all of the uncomfortableness.
Most people get very antsy when religion is suddenly thrust into the conversation. It’s not that they aren’t good people, or religious, or even Christian. It’s just that they were not expecting religion to come at them while talking in the end zone during a football game. Luckily, Facebook has had the effect of dulling this blindside attack, but still, saying, “I’m a pastor,” is a little bit of a conversation killer.
People aren’t sure what that means. It is one of the few jobs that has so much societal baggage attached to it. I guess I could say, “I’m an abortion doctor,” and people would be slightly more uncomfortable (mental note for my own 10th reunion). It is like people suddenly feel obligated to talk about their faith, which is uncomfortable for most people. “Oh, my wife and I go to church pretty often.” I’m not sure if they want me to give them some special blessing, or pull out some Communion bread or what.
As the initial uncomfortableness wore off (or was it just in my head because of my own fears and self-doubt), the religion stuff faded again. We went back to a campus bar after the game, and I ordered a round of beers, and as we gathered around the golden elixir that was the focal point of so many of our gatherings in the past, the years seemed to fade away. I wasn’t defined as “pastor” any more than my buddy was defined as “accountant.” I was just Mac again. I actually had a great conversation about the church and the struggles of being a new dad and a Pastor with a guy I hadn’t seen in ten years (who happens to be Jewish, and I’m not sure if that is significant).
We talked about old parties and new adventures. And then the conversation drifted to a brother of ours who came out of the closet during his junior year because he wanted to take his boyfriend (who we all blindly believed was his cousin) to our formal. Suddenly I remembered that I was a pastor again and said, “When he brought Jeremy to formal – without any backlash whatsoever – That was when I was the most proud of our fraternity.”
I was reminded again that I was a pastor at 9 p.m. on Saturday, when I knew I had to get going. I pulled out my favorite worn-out line, “Well, I have to work in the morning,” shook some hands, shared some hugs, and went home a few hours before I really wanted to, just when the stories were getting good.
The fact is, I certainly had many moments of which I am not proud during college. There were things that I did and said and drank that were not highlights of my life. But I would not change a thing. I learned more from that group of guys than I did in four years in the classroom. I learned about people in that house. I learned about conflict. The wealthy kid from the suburbs that felt entitled to everything, I knew him. The farmer from southern Illinois with the chew in his cheek, he lived down the hall. The pot-head wasting away on his couch, I hung out with him. The alcoholic with anger issues, I worried about him. The homosexual from a small town learning how to be “out,” I hugged him. We all had stories. We all had moments we weren’t proud of, but we learned how to live together. We learned how to be men together. And wouldn’t change a moment of it. Even the night I spent in the bathtub.