The Pistol, The Paintbrush & The Pastor
“The emotions that good hunters need to cultivate are love and service more than courage. The sentiments of the hunt then become translated into art.” James Hunt
Several years ago this city boy took up deer hunting. I began as many do with a rifle and have since moved on to bow hunting, which has yet to yield a deer but has increased my love for hunting altogether. I also love art. I draw at least one night a week and more if possible. I love watercolor the most. It’s a delicate dance of water and pigment. Pushing the paper as far as it will go, absorbing as much water as possible, but stopping right before it begins to break down and tear.
When I am hunting, I sit quietly in a tree that has just lost all its leaves. Even if I take someone with me, I sit perched high up in a seat made for just one, and only I can pull the trigger or release the bow.
When I draw, I am the only one who can move the brush. There is no coach leaning over my shoulder telling me what passes as an authentic artistic expression. It is just a blank slate and if I am satisfied that it expresses what I wanted it to say, nobody can tell me differently.
Art, hunting, long rides on my motorcycle, these isolated hobbies are not new. When I was young I frequently went bowling or to the movies by myself. Lately I have begun to ask myself if the hobbies I enjoy the most reveal anything about the current place my soul resides. Being a pastor is unlike any job I have ever had before. It is at one time very public and vocal; you are the face of an entire congregation and sometimes an entire group of people to the rest of the world. But it is also a very withdrawn and introverted job, lots of studying, hours with your nose buried in an ancient religious document. And then there is the inner struggle, making sure you live by the values that you extol to others on a weekly basis.
When your phone rings, it’s usually someone needing something. Sometimes it’s prayers, sometimes it’s money, sometimes they want you to comfort a loved one who is dying. Often times when people come into my office, it is a place for them to dump their conflicts and pain and walk out feeling relived, while I sit there in the pile trying to figure out what exactly to do with all of these secrets and concerns freshly vomited onto my shoulders. Now I know, I’m not supposed to fix everything, I’m not meant to carry their burdens for them, and that God is the one who carries them. I know all the theological things that go along with that stuff, but it doesn’t make it any easier. The hardest part is finding friends as a pastor. I’m not sure if I am the one who makes this complicated or if it is those on the other side of the table. What I do know is that I have let very few people into the inner circle of my life; the ones who seem least likely to stay are the ones who knew me as pastor before they knew me as a friend.
People have this weird relationship with their pastor. With one breath they say they want to be held to a higher standard, and with the next, they call you judgmental for trying to hold them to a higher standard. It’s just safer for everyone involved to keep the pastor at arm’s length. Give them a version of you that is flawed, but just flawed enough that nobody needs to know and nobody is really concerned. It’s the version of ourselves many of us present on a regular basis. Not too perfect where people think we are no fun, and not too corrupt that we might need real help. That however, just defines the ones that you tend to think of as your friends. The other group of people hear you are a pastor, and they wait eagerly for some sign of a moral failure to justify the fact that they want nothing at all to do with God. You become the scapegoat for their spiritual cowardice. I’m great for those kinds of people because you don’t have to hang around me long to find flaws in my machine. So stuck between a rock and a hard place is where I tend to find myself. I’m the guy people will call when their relationship is on the fritz, but I’m not the guy you call when you’re having your buddies over because you feel bad every time you use a swear word in front of me. I didn’t know being the swear word police was part of my job but apparently I have a badge on my shirt pocket because as soon as people find out what I do for a living they apologize for all the things they said before that.
I’ve even had people introduce me as a pastor, only to console their friends with, “don’t worry he isn’t that kind of pastor.” I know what they mean by that, but I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. I guess it just depends on the crowd. This is the reason a pastor has to be very careful about who he lets into leadership around him. You hand people the ability to heal you or harm you. Too often I have handed people positions they were not ready for, and we both paid the price for that.
Often times, the people who are fighting to get close to you are the ones who scare you. This is because there is nothing particularly beneficial about being a pastor’s friend unless you are just power hungry and are under the false assumption that our job has lots of wonderful perks.
Whenever a young man tells me he wants to be a pastor, I assume either he is a glutton for God’s often-painful way of growing us or their ego tells them they should be in charge. I have fluctuated between both of those roles, and at least with God, the scars tells a greater story than any ego could imagine. The solitude of my hobbies does say a lot about me. They are not some cry for help or coping mechanism for the stress. They don’t mean that I need people to reach out and invite me out for fun. I simply think it is Gods way of balancing me and preparing me.
With some of the people that God puts into my path, we will paint something meaningful together. Much like watercolor, the Gospel will push them to their limits, but right before they break, the pigments spread out to the waters borders, mixing and swirling seemingly full of chaos when suddenly something beautiful takes place and an image is born. Other relationships are like hunting. Sometimes the Gospel is a trigger; it cuts them to their core. The deer kicks up the dirt, leaves a trail to follow, and when you arrive, the vulnerable truths about nature that cannot be escaped stare blindly back at you from the stained grass. My hope for those who call me pastor is that we will paint something beautiful together. But I am fully aware that sometimes the sinful nature of man will be as dangerous and unpredictable as nature itself. And in those cases when the Gospel is a bullet, I weep for their loss, while at the same time still enjoying the hunt. You see, the Gospel doesn’t really cause anyone to be wounded. The Gospel just shows people a wound that is already there. The true Christian finds that the blood on his shirt belongs to Christ, who took their wounds for them. They take that deep red pigment and paint with it. The others, they find that their wound is self-inflicted, and run back into the woods where there is not hope at all. Thank you to all who allow me to be me, who allow me to pastor, to call you my friend and allow me to do the few things I know how to do. I love people, and I love solitude. This is the dynamic that suits my calling. If you ever feel like your personality is not fitting to the Christian life because you are too awkward or too withdrawn, I would encourage you to realize that you are that way for a reason, and we must learn to rejoice and be glad in it. The world needs more weirdos.
Hmmm… this sounds familiar. 🙂 I recently had a student who came up to see her grade in my English class, let loose a swear word, then remembered what my husband does and waved her hands over my head saying, “holy thoughts….holy thoughts….” People really forget we are every bit as human as they are. I enjoyed this piece.