Starting a blog feels so pretentious. Even more pretentious is making self-identifying claims in the choosing of a title line for your blog. “Cynic-Saint” is easy enough to claim, but as I write in the About the Blog section, I can only adopt “Pastor-Theologian” tentatively. As the vocational identification to which I most aspire, I am only timidly able to claim it. But as I say in that About section, whether I am a good one or not, a pastor-theologian I am. And perhaps the vocational hazard is never doing either role on the opposite sides of that hyphen as well as one would want.
There is just so much tension in that little hyphen.
I felt that tension earlier this week. I had set aside a day to revise my research proposal for the PhD program at the University of Durham in England. Though I normally preach on Wednesday nights, a dear friend and colleague was preaching in my stead. I had time to wrestle over and write about my thesis plans.
Then I found out that a family at my church had suffered a tragic loss. The memorial service would be Wednesday. I had never met the deceased. I did not know the family. And our church has a strong group of pastors, staff and elders, so I was not needed. The academic side of me wanted to close myself up in my office with some french pressed coffee and read about Christology and early Jewish monotheism. But the pastoral side of me was pulled to the grief and pain of brothers and sisters within the flock. The research was postponed, and stuck on my lapel a name-tag that read “pastor.”
Freedom from the obligation to serve in a pastoral capacity can draw many of us off into the academic realm. Then again, freedom from rigorous theological thinking and serious exegetical labors has drawn many of off off into parish ministry. Such stereotypical paradigms of either of these vocational paths bespeak of the unfortunate chasm that persists between the church and the academy. Those of us who feel called to serious theological work as well as meaningful pastoral work must embrace the tension in that hyphen, that tiny horizontal slash functioning as a grammatical fulcrum in the awkard and beautiful term “pastor-theologian.”
Sometimes I err on one side of the hyphen, and sometimes on the other side. Discerning the proper course can be so tedious. But maybe there is some relief to be found in acknowledging that to keep the two roles together—to keep “pastor” and “theologian” hyphenated—is to fall short on both ends on multiple occasions.
Are we okay with that?
Then again, to remove the hyphen and choose between one or the other may be to sabotage the vocational journey before it ever gets underway. Can we pastor well without robust theology? Can we teach robust theology without pastoral impact?
In light of these questions, I think I will keep the hyphen… and all its tension.
(Some folks who are consciously embracing “Pastor-Theologian” as self-identifying are the members of SAET—The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology. Check out their site here.)