If you trace some of the themes of my blog over the course of the past two years, you will find that there is a small but heartfelt strain of my own grappling with what it means to be a seminarian or a pastor interacting with the non-church world. I have struggled with wanting to shed the misbelief that seminarians and pastors are anything other than normal people, who have lives, hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes apart from the church proper. At the same time, however, I have also struggled with the distinctions that can or should be made between the way we interact with the world and the way that other people interact with the world.
I like a good dark beer. I'll order one on the rare occasion that I show up at a bar. I'll buy a six-pack to keep in the fridge for when I eat pizza with my dad. I'll drink a glass of wine with a fancy dinner. I have come to justify for myself and my (future pastoral) life that there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with alcohol. I have not, however, and will not ever be able to justify reckless drinking and drunkenness from pastors, future pastors, or seminarians.
I saw pictures from a seminary birthday party that was held this past weekend. I wasn't offended by pictures of friends, standing around talking, red plastic cups in hand. Having a drink with friends doesn't bother me. I did, however, feel bothered when I saw pictures of teams squaring off in a variety of drinking games. And I felt ashamed and astonished when I got to pictures of keg-standers. Seriously. I saw a picture of a girl I see most days in class or chapel being held upside down by two other guys that I have classes with, with another girl who I know from classes and mutual friends assisting to make sure that the beer was flowing directly from keg to mouth. Horrifying. This is especially troubling given the fact that I was sent an email invitation to a different party the weekend before that advertised first and foremost the presence of a keg and plenty of other alcohol. And especially troubling when, after the party, the hosts emailed the entire student body asking us to keep an eye out for a necklace that a guy had lost while winning the keg-stand on that particular evening.
I know that I blogged at least once over the course of my time at PTS concerning the abundance of alcohol (and subsequent drunkenness) at seminary floor parties. This is nothing new for me. I suppose that I can honestly say that I had hoped that this sort of rampant public drunkenness was an exception to the rule. But apparently I was mistaken, because LSTC is no better. I'd probably have to say that LSTC is worse.
Is this a rebellion against the restraint that will inevitably be required upon ordination? Is it a matter of getting this sort of behavior out of our systems before we become responsible pastors? If so, it's terrible reasoning.
I fully understand the struggle with taking on the identity "pastor." It gives people a certain set of preconceptions (misconceptions?), expectations, and preconceived notions, often based on experience. I struggle with the fear that people - my family and friends included - will only see my collar and not see me. It is difficult to adjust to taking on this new identity that could (should?) become my only identity.
But at what point do we have to accept the inevitabiities of what it means to be a pastor and be willing to live a life consistent with those expectations, even prior to ordination?
These pictures that I looked at are online. Public. Available to anyone who knows where to look for them.
If someone were to stumble upon them, what would they think? Would they have any clue that they were looking at a party hosted by future pastors? Or would they just think that they were looking at a frat party? And shouldn't there be a difference?
As Christians, we are Christ's hands and feet in this world. As future pastors, we are called to serve the church - the body of Christ in the world. We are not called to be perfect, but we are called into our baptism as recipients of God's free grace. What does it mean to living within that calling? How far can we stretch God's free grace before we have distorted the meaning of the Christian life?