Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fleeing to Tarshish

I've been a pastor now for almost 8 years. That impending anniversary has occasioned in me a lot of thinking about my pastoral calling in both its joys and disappointments. As I noted in the previous post, I re-discovered Eugene Peterson in this process. I can't say it better than he has, so I'll let him speak about the perennial pastoral temptation to flee to Tarshish...
And why Tarshish? For one thing, it is a lot more exciting than Nineveh. Nineveh was an ancient site with layer after layer of ruined and unhappy history. Going to Nineveh to preach was not a coveted assignment for a Hebrew prophet with good references. But Tarshish was something else. Tarshish was exotic. Tarshish was adventure. Tarshish had the appeal of the unknown furnished with baroque details from the fantasizing imagination. Tarshish in the biblical references was "a far off and sometimes idealized port." It is reported in 1 Kings 10:22 that Solomon's fleet of Tarshish fetched gold, silver, ivory, monkeys, and peacocks. Semiticis C. H. Gordon says that in the popular imagination it became "a distant paradise." Shangri-la. (p. 15-16)

It is necessary from time to time that someone stand up and attempt to get the attention of the pastors lined up at the travel agency in Joppa to purchase a ticket to Tarshish. At this moment, I am the one standing up. If I succeed in getting anyone's attention, what I want to say is that the pastoral vocation is not a glamorous vocation and that Tarshish is a lie. Pastoral work consists of modest, daily, assigned work. It is like farm work. Most pastoral work involves routines similar to cleaning out the barn, mucking out the stalls, spreading manure, pulling weeds. This is not, any of it, bad work in itself, but if we expected to ride a glistening black stallion in daily parades and then return to the barn where a lackey grooms our steed for us, we will be severely disappointed and end up being horribly resentful (p. 16).
What can I say? Like all pastors that I know, I have felt the pull of a trip to Tarshish. I have read the "ecclesiastical pornography" (Peterson's term) books and articles of "successful" congregations, provocatively posed and the "How I Did It" books by big-time pastors. And there is that thought, however fleeting it may be at any one time, which nevertheless persistently lures and calls to you, saying, "Why not you? I will give you all the kingdoms of the world..." And it is a lie, a persistent one, but a lie nonetheless. For part of a pastor's calling consists of cotentedly working the field God has given rather than lusting, like Ahab, over another man's vineyard.

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