Removing My Diplomas


Somewhere in Eugene Peterson’s autobiography, The Pastor, I read that he removed his academic diplomas from his wall and replaced them with photos of people after whom he intended to model his pastoral ministry. His reason, at least as I recall it, was that the diplomas represented his past accomplishments and served as a source of unhealthy pride, whereas the photos represented his hope for a healthy pastoral vocation.

When I moved to Florida and set up shop in my church office, I followed Peterson’s tracks. I printed three poster-sized images of three figures who represent various pastoral skins that I hope to fill out over my lifetime.

The first is Julian of Norwich. In Revelations of Divine Love she encounters the crucified Christ and his wounds become her consolation, leading her to pen the words: All shall be well. Those four words became the only prayer I could pray when we experienced a miscarriage in 2009. When reason fell short, the love of God reached me and I knew that somehow all shall be well. Her image reminds me that everyone is suffering in some way and we are called to enter that pain and remain in hope that through Christ’s love all shall be well.

Beside Julian is Eugene Peterson. He’s gazing upward as he stands in the pulpit. His raspy voice calls the flock to remember that they are the people of God. He leaves the stage and turns to me and says, “Don’t turn the church into a business. You’re a pastor, not a manager.” Then he walks away. I actually never met him. On the day he died, I grieved like I’d lost a grandparent. He is a spiritual father to me. Eugene reminds me to be a pastor, not a star.

To Eugene’s right is Walter Rauschenbusch. You don’t have to know who he is because you know who Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is. King cites Rauschenbusch as his preeminent influence behind his social gospel. Uncle Walter, as I refer to him because so many think he’s a deceased relative of mine due to some level of reselmblence, reminds me that the Gospel is inherently social in its implications. He also reminds me that the social Gospel does not begin with humanitarianism, but rather with a clear-eyed understanding of the kingdom of God and it's prophetic work in the cities where we live.

That trinity - all deceased - represent my preferred future.

But this morning I decided to hang my academic diplomas and ministerial certificates in my office - the evidence of my past accomplishments. I’ve been here nearly 1.5 years, and I’ve come to terms with what those pieces of paper mean to me. I’ll turn to that story in my next post.

Tommy BrownComment