Photo courtesy of Sky McCracken
One Lent a few years ago, I publicly confessed to the sin of pride. Someone afterwards told me, "You just said that to get conversation started. You aren't prideful at all." And while I don't color my hair (or beard), drive older cars, and am not very materialistic, I nonetheless have often been guilty of pride. In my case, clergy pride.
A few months ago, something pinched one of my right fingers. Hard. It was my seminary class ring, and it was cracked. It took a lot of soap and tugging to get it off my finger. The jeweler called it a "cracked ring shank," and it is not uncommon among arthritis sufferers like myself whose joints and extremities often swell and contract several times a day.
Getting the ring replaced or fixed is not a big deal; it has a lifetime warranty. And it ought to: it cost a pretty penny when I got it (around $450 in 1990), and it was my birthday/graduation/Christmas present one year from my wife. I stared at it for a long time after I got it off my finger, and realized that I have been rather prideful about my education and ordination. That beautiful ring with my seminary's crest told the world that I had a theological education from a fairly prestigious school. Maybe I was wearing it for the wrong reasons.
So for the time being, my ring is still cracked and at home on my dresser. My diplomas from Tennessee and Emory are framed and in a closet. And while I am not ashamed of my ordination as a deacon and an elder (yes United Methodists, I am that old to have been ordained both), I have to remember that my ordination to ministry began at my baptism. They are gifts from God and the Church. I have NOT arrived - even if I am a district superintendent. God expects me to use these gifts, but He's not impressed.
I've been a district superintendent long enough to realize that the divide between clergy and laity is way too wide - and worse, the divides among clergy are just as wide. United Methodists have 26 types of "conference relationships" - distinctions that mean something to the Board of Pensions, Board of Ordained Ministry, and insurance companies - but mean very little to people in the pews (or, for that matter, those outside the pews). A friend of mine has continually noted that our "tiered" clergy system is nothing short of classist and perpetuates an evil just as bad as racism. Anyone appointed to the work of what elders and deacons traditionally does by the power of the Holy Spirit should be ordained and be given God-given (not institution-given) authority to do their work, regardless of their education. All the implications of itineration, insurance, conference relationship, etc. are matters for the institution to figure out. I'm not slamming the institution - heck, I AM a big part of it - but let's put it in its place.