As boy I had a sunny disposition. For the most part, people around me reflected back to me warm affirmation. Our home was largely free from conflict; I cannot remember a single instance when someone in my family raised a voice in anger. I always had a close circle of friends, and although we would often tease each other, we all knew that it was done with affection. I approached the world with an openness as wide and trusting as the outstretched arms of someone anticipating an embrace. In other words, I was completely unprepared to deal with the criticism that comes with being a pastor.
Perhaps instead of asking confirmands to confirm the vows made at their baptisms, members should confirm the vows they made to these teens at their baptisms—confirming the validity of those vows and the congregation’s love and commitment to them, no matter what the teens may believe at the moment or where life may take them. The candidates would be asked to receive the love of the congregation and a recommitment of what the congregation offered them at their baptisms. Even if the teens leave the church, as many will, those commitments would be like a light kept in the window until they are ready to return home.
Can pastors also be theologians? Wallace Alston, in whose honor Loving God with Our Minds has been published, would answer that question with a resounding yes. Until recently Alston was director of the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, where he developed the Pastor-Theologian Program.
It seems as if all the pastors I know either have read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead or claim that it is on the top of the pile of books they intend to read. Pastors—myself among them—love the book. Some of the reasons are obvious.
Sitting on the four corners of an intersection in the town where I grew up are the public school, the library, the town hall and my home church. Every morning an American flag is raised in front of each of the four buildings. The church, however, sits on a hill above the other public buildings, as if presiding over all of them.