It may surprise you to learn I have something in common with pastors.
It isn’t that I, like a member of the clergy, am revered and upstanding and loath to make off-color remarks. It’s that newspaper columnists, like pastors, are thought to work only one day a week.
Ministers are best known for their work on Saturdays or Sundays, depending on their theological stripe. That’s the big day, the big show. The same goes for the writers of weekly humor columns read by upward of nine people.
Every now and then, on an unlikely occasion when I encounter a member of this small group, I’m asked, “I read your column every Wednesday. What do you do the rest of the week?”
I imagine pastors hear the same thing. Unless you serve on the church council or sing in the choir or were elected the trustee in charge of unclogging toilets at the parsonage, you might not see your minister outside Sunday services. You might think, “That looks like a pretty sweet gig, working one hour a week.”
Ah, but there’s more to that job than the Sunday sermon, just as — believe it or not — there’s more to mine than chronicling the latest misadventures of the world’s stupid criminals. Pastors counsel troubled members of their congregations.
They minister to shut-ins. They officiate funerals and weddings.
Some pastors even take the time to read the newspaper and react to my musings, usually when I’m writing a column that isn’t built around puns about Uranus.
Even if they didn’t work outside the pulpit, pastors still would make quite a contribution. Take it from a lifelong Methodist who over the years has been blessed with thought-provoking pastors. The Rev. Blake Overlien asks parishioners to open their Bibles and turn to the page featuring that week’s verse. As the group falls silent and hundreds of pages turn at once, I like to think I’m hearing the sound of the flapping of angels’ wings.
The Rev. Marianne Cotter has a gift for preaching with the Good Book in one hand and the newspaper in the other, showing how ancient scripture is relevant in modern times. The Sunday after Baraboo got unwanted international attention for a picture showing local students delivering an apparent Nazi salute, her thoughtful sermon asked congregants to suspend rash judgment, and to support those hurt by the photo’s troubling imagery as well as those who appear in it. She asked the community to take a long look in the mirror, addressing its blemishes without losing sight of its overall beauty. It was the kind of on-point message you could feel resonating in your chest. A columnist can only dream of having such impact.
Serving as a pastor can’t be easy. Even the faithful ask questions that defy easy answers. How can a benevolent God allow evil? Why do bad things happen to good people, while the sleazeball who created the “Girls Gone Wild” video series became a millionaire?
I think back to a guest pastor who once told the story of virtuoso pianist who saw his concert interrupted by a child who had scrambled to the stage and started banging on the keys. Rather than stop the child, the pianist reached around to play an elegant legato, turning cacophony into a duet. The message: Even when we fumble and struggle, God envelopes us, guiding us toward harmony.
That’s what I call a good day’s — or even a good week’s — work. Like pastors, I do other things besides write this column. I cover city government, write about the local arts scene, take photos when beavers arrive at the zoo.
It’s not God’s work exactly, not heavenly stuff unless you consider the attention I give Uranus. But believe it or not, it gives me something to write about every day of the week, sometimes twice on Sundays.