|This is a really hilarious cartoon, from a very strange website about how to date: http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/the-best-questions-for-first-dates/|
So as it turns out, "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones* is a hugely inappropriate song, something I never thought about until just now when I tried to look it up online while in the church office without first turning the volume down on my laptop. There are days when I live in fear that someone will discover that I am, in fact, the worst pastor in the world.
Anyway, what I actually wanted to say is that it turns out starting up at a new congregation is kind of like starting to date someone new. Actually, let me be more clear: starting up at a new congregation is exactly like starting to date someone new.
Anyone who has ever been in even a quasi-long term relationship can surely remember those first few weeks and months of togetherness with their beloved. Can you remember it? Back before you knew anything of your lover's frustrating habits or idiosyncratic ticks or odd family traditions? Back before you had ever argued about the same thing 3,000 times or constantly "forgotten" to do the thing the other asked you to do 78,000 times? Remember that? When it was just the two of you and a world of possibility (and maybe even making out)? They were the days in which you got butterflies in your stomach by simply seeing the person, spent forever picking out outfits to wear on your dates**, laughed at all of each other's jokes, and secretly daydreamed about what you might name your children while simultaneously living in fear that it won't work out and also constantly feeling slightly awkward. Only much later is it possible to look back on these days and laugh at all you didn't know about each other and all the wildly unique and frustrating personality quirks you tried desperately to hide from each other, even though they may have come to be the things you love the most about one another. And you can feel thankful for how far you have come (if not a little annoyed that your partner probably doesn't dress up all that much for you any more, but usually just wears pajamas around all the time, except when going to dinner on your birthday. Sorry, Mr. L).
Arriving at a new church as the minister is, in a very strange way, a lot like that. As I go about these first weeks of a new pastorate, I am noticing something very similar happening. I am on my best behavior. I suddenly wear suits on Sunday. I spend loads more time on my sermon. I am charming and engaging and never impatient and will talk ad nauseum to anyone who stops by for no reason. I say, "Me too!" and "Oh, really?" and "That is so interesting" way too much. I am nervous before each Sunday starts about how I'll do. I have yet to do any of the things that would demonstrate my weaknesses, such as snap at people or swear or complain or wear jeans to work or write a crappy sermon because I just wanted to spend Saturday lounging around in my sweatpants watching "The Tudors." In short, I want them to like me. And now doing this for the second time, I realize that the converse is also true. They want me to like them too. Everyone seems so positive and functional. There seems to be very little of the high drama that usually characterizes the management of a human institution. Everyone has stopped by to "help out."And everything seems just perfect. But I know better. I know that things are not perfect, they never could be. There will be conflicts and frustrations and people who drive me BONKERS*** and who I want to scream about later to Mr. L. But by then, it will be too late. I will be their pastor. And they will be the people I pastor. And we will have kinda fallen in love in a non-creepy way and even the things they do that drive me nuts will make me care for them and blog about them and remember them forever.
I think I'll still wait to sing them "Start Me Up," though........
* The album cover is also quite weird and is a furry foot in a stiletto. Just wanted you to know.
**I recently reconnected with an old college roommate who I happened to live with for the few months around the time I started dating Mr. L. While catching up back and forth on Facebook, I told her I was married and described Mr. L. She said, "Oh yeah, that guy. I remember when you went on your first date with him and five minutes beforehand you were tearing clothes out of drawers and throwing them around and screaming because you couldn't figure out what to wear. Glad it worked out." Go figure.
*** Strange and somewhat not helpful lesson I've learned from pastoring: It's never the people you're worried about who end up giving you hell. It's always completely different people who come out of the woodwork to ruin your life. The people who you immediately notice and worry about usually turn out to be mostly innocuous. I'm trying to think of some great metaphor to describe this that includes laser tag, but it's the end of the day and my metaphor-producing brain sector is worn out already.