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JOE LAGUARDIA: When you meet a pastor, just be your imperfect self

When I heard the call to ministry in my teenage years, I wanted everyone to know that I wanted to be a pastor. I went to school, got experience, landed a great ministry at a great church, and have done fairly well in living out my calling thus far.

It’s odd, then, that years later, I am hesitant to tell people I am a pastor when they ask what I do for a living.

Why am I now so shy to tell people I’m a pastor? Its probably because when I do get around to that (only after a person asks, of course), I always get some sort of apology that goes something like this: “Oh, I’m sorry I used bad language in front of you,” or “Gee, I hope I didn’t offend you when I told you I liked that movie.”

And my favorite: “Oh my, I wouldn’t have ordered that drink if I knew you were a pastor.”

It’s funny how people change their behavior when they are in the company of clergy. I’m confident the only other people who feel like that are lawyers (“You’re a lawyer? May I ask a question?”) and doctors (“Oh, doctor, I’ve had this pain for the past month”).

To be honest, I’ve become quite used to that shift in body language, verbal fanfare, and sudden guardedness strangers portray in my company, but it’s still very discomforting.

I guess if I were to give advice to anyone meeting a pastor for the first time, I’d say this: Just be yourself. Besides, if you have to change how you act, speak, and behave in front of a pastor, you probably shouldn’t act, speak, and behave like that in the first place.

We pastors are normal human beings, too, and we simply want to fellowship with other normal human beings. I watch all kinds of movies, like everyone else. I have an occasional glass of wine with my meal (I am Italian, after all). Don’t be surprised if I get grumpy when things don’t go my way.

Nor do I part my hair or wear a tie whenever I leave the house. And I’m certainly not going to quote you the Bible for no good reason in the deli line if you’re acting a fool because the grocer didn’t cut the cheese right.

I prefer authentic people. I like people who have rough edges and lousy manners and really rotten opinions. I like people who act strange and get attitudes. It all makes me feel at home; it reminds me of my family, who also gave up trying to act differently around me a long time ago.

I’m not naive, though. There will always be people who quickly throw on a mask when I tell them I’m a pastor. Our hypocrisy knows no bounds, as one crusty movie character once uttered, and we all become white-washed tombs now and then.

Maybe that is why Jesus never got along with the pious crowd. He knew they were putting on airs, and he spent more time with people who were sinners and knew as much. “This fellow,” the Pharisees said of Jesus, “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). How repulsive. My type of guy.

That is why Jesus told some folks who were throwing a dinner not to waste time with those who bandied about their so-called honor, but instead invite the folks who didn’t have enough change to dress the part (Luke 14).

That is why Jesus meets us where we are, offers Himself to us without asking much in return, and simply calls us disciples as long as we put one foot in front of the other.

On second thought, maybe Jesus got along with people because when they asked Him what He did for a living, He still said, “Carpenter.” And who doesn’t like a carpenter?

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinityassociate@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.