***I get nervous when strangers ask me my job.
No, I’m not a Mafia hitman.
I’m not Anthony Mundine’s public relations consultant, Tim Matheson’s speechwriter, Craig Thomson’s lawyer, or Charlie Sheen’s life coach.
With a body like this, I couldn’t be a male stripper.
I’m a Uniting Church minister.
Now, if I tell most Australians I’m a “minister”, they think I’m some kind of politician, and they expect me to shout their drinks, so I sometimes borrow terms that other groups use.
- If I’m talking to someone with hardly any contact with churches, I often say I’m a “priest”. Most people understand what “priest” means. A lot of people act really strangely around “priests”, though.
- If I’m talking to an older person or a Pommy, I say I’m a “vicar”. They understand what that means, but then they act like I’m really … vague, … like I won’t get the punchlines of jokes.
- I never call myself a “pastor”, because Australians associate “pastors” with the funny American religions.
Now, with any professional God-wrangler, most people think we’ve given up all sorts of stuff for our religion
- Either we’ve given up sex, or else we’re not supposed to be too enthusiastic about it … (unless you’re gay).
- Either we’ve given up the grog, or else we’re not supposed to be too enthusiastic about it … (unless you’re Anglican).
- Either we’ve taken a vow of poverty, or else we get paid peanuts ... (unless you’re an evangelist; then you’re a gazillionaire).
Still, I really like my job, except for a few bits of it.
I’m supposed to visit people, particularly when they’re sick. Now, with visiting sick people, whatever I do, it will be wrong.
- If I don’t visit a sick person, what do I get but, “Why didn’t you visit my mother?”
- If I do visit a sick person, the patient sees me coming, gets all upset, and says, “Here comes the minister. I must be dying!”
Then there are church business meetings. Now, don’t think that people on church committees sit around and discuss the meaning of life. That doesn’t happen.
- At the local level, church meetings are all about riveting stuff like leaky roofs and how much mustard to put on the sandwiches at next year’s fete. That’s fete, as in the phrase “a fete worse than death”.
- Church meetings beyond the local level are similarly riveting, only more so. Normally, you need at least one murder mystery a day to get through Synod.
But, back to what I was saying, the worse thing about being a clergy type is that we’re all expected to always be so … nice … to everyone no matter what. A lot of this has to do with the role model that every professional God-wrangler from my generation had when we were students: every minister, priest, vicar, rabbi, nun, imam, pastor, Buddhist monk, swami, guru, Salvation Army officer, and Mormon missionary. I’m speaking, of course, of Father Mulcahy from M*A*S*H.
Later generations of theological students had the Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted: far more edgy role models. In our day, we had Father Mulcahy.
Now, Father Mulcahy was compassion personified. He was compassionate in a nerdy sort of way. Think of Kevin Rudd in a clerical collar and you’ve got the idea. Anyway, Father Mulcahy was nice to everyone: Radar, Hotlips, Klinger -- even Major Burns.
And because of his compassion, Father Mulcahy had such a positive impact on everyone. Think of Hawkeye. More than fifty years after the end of the Korean War, there he was on The West Wing, running for president. And he only lost narrowly to the guy from L.A. Law.
And because Father Mulcahy set the compassion bar so high for every professional God-wrangler, we’re all expected to be so professionally … nice … to everyone … at least in public. As a result, most of us are absolutely grumpy when we get home: Father Mulcahy in public, but Ian Paisley at home.
Is the reverse also true? Does a fire-breathing evangelist become a meek-and-mild Mr. Nice Guy when he gets home? After a hard day of denouncing people, does Fred Nile relax by baking a batch of ANZAC biscuits for the kiddies at the local mosque, or for the old dears at the Home for Elderly Lesbians?
Anyway, as I said, I’m a Uniting Church minister, and the big thing I like about the Uniting Church is that we’re allowed to pick and choose what we believe in or not. That’s pretty good, because just about every religion has some good stuff that they believe in and do, and some rubbish stuff that they believe in and do. And if you can pick and choose what you believe in, you can pick what you think is the good stuff and ignore the rest.
One of the things I don’t really believe in is the devil.
I blame the Zoroastrians for giving us the devil.
Now, I have nothing against the Zoroastrians personally. I think Freddie Mercury was a very talented musician.
But, historically, the Zoroastrians were a disaster. They were complete pyromaniacs, for one thing. But the worst thing about them was this idea they had three thousand years ago. They believed that there were two gods of equal power, a good god and a bad god, and the two gods were always fighting with each other … cosmic biffo. And all the bad stuff that happens in the world is because the good god and the bad god are having this eternal stoush.
Over the centuries, all the religions that are into the one-God idea … they took this Zoroastrian idea of the punch-up between the good god and the bad god and decided, “Hey, let’s give our God some competition!” And so, the devil was born. They came up with this cosmic boogieman: evil and supernatural; nowhere near as powerful as God, but still able to scare people: a cross between Dracula and Newt Gingrich.
And then, this devil is in charge of Hell, where God sends people she doesn’t like. Now, if this devil is supposed to be God’s eternal enemy, why does God trust him to run her jail? (As you can probably tell, I have problems with Hell, also.)
Think about it. Just about every religion going, however else they disagree with each other on the religious details, agree on one big thing: God is really into compassion. God is like Father Mulcahy, only much more so. That’s the big selling point of any religion.
And, if you think about it, if anyone has a right to lose her temper, it’s God. Think about all that God has on her plate. She’s got to keep the universe ticking over. Meanwhile she’s got to keep all the different religions happy at the same time. If you or I had that job description, we’d have worse anger management issues than Mel Gibson. But God is just heavily into the whole compassion thing.
But there are some religious people – while they talk about how compassionate God is – they also say that God is willing to send people to be fuel for an eternal barbecue – just for getting their beliefs wrong. That isn’t compassionate. Father Mulcahy wouldn’t do that.
Think about it. When Robert Mugabe or some other dictator throws some politician or newspaper editor into jail for criticising him, we don’t say that Robert Mugabe is all that compassionate, do we?
Actually, I think God is much more like Father Mulcahy than Robert Mugabe (except that she probably is black.)
Anyway, this is why I get nervous when strangers ask me my job.