Monday, August 6, 2012

The Unlikely Pastor: Skinny, Young, and Thoughtful

"That's my seat," I said, pointing to the empty spot beside the widow. The couple in aisle six stood up and breathed  a sigh of relief. They had feared a four hundred pound seat hog would travel from Salt Lake City to Indianapolis with them. I was a welcomed sight: skinny and young. I even promised not to take both arm rests.

We sat down and buckled in, and then woman turned to me and asked about my travels. "I'm returning from a pastor's conference."

I used to shy away from exposing my vocation. Responses are varied--some people start confessing sin, others curse. This woman's response was humorous. She said, "You don't look like a pastor."

"I don't typically travel in my clergy robes. It's not comfortable." I paused, and then added, "Are you people of the faith?"

"Oh no," they responded in unison.

"Would you mind if I proselytized you the entire trip?" They declined.

For a few minutes, we traded pleasantries. We talked about family and travel. Eventually, the conversation veered back to religion.

"I have a book I have to show you," the woman said. Her husband stood up and retrieved her purse. Buried in the bottom was a new work by Jonathan Haidt entitled, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. The author is a social psychologist from the University of Virginia, who explores the group-think, tribalism, and the shortcomings of our rational minds.

The book served as a segue to discussing political debate in a civil manner. If the recent Chik-fil-A spectacle proved anything, it is the power of our media to amplify opinions. We have the tools for anyone to give unsolicited and unfiltered commentary on issues as diverse as Freedom of Speech and Waffle Fries.

During the flight I took a cue from Haidt's dust-jacket: I listened.  My traveling companion outlined her six big issues for the upcoming election. She argued for reform on campaign finance and education. She wanted restrictions on Wall Street and freedom for ovaries. She dreamed of a smaller carbon footprint and larger federal government.

Occasionally, I chimed in with a question or comment. Once I affirmed my belief in the Sovereign, Creator God, who will reign in spite of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama's best campaigning efforts.

Each time I furthered the conversation, she sang her refrain: "You don't look like a pastor."

Finally, I asked her what a pastor looked like. She didn't know, but apparently we don't look skinny, young, or thoughtful.

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