Writing a column for Christmas Day, on a Sunday, can be intimidating. After all, you’d think people would have better things to do than read the newspaper.
But if today is a time to ponder religion, then I’d like to give a nod to the earthly people who facilitate that. They are often overworked. They are constantly overlooked. And they have taken some bad publicity lately.
I’m talking about clerics.
I’m talking about priests, rabbis, pastors, ministers, imams, bishops and preachers.
For the overwhelming majority of these, every day is a humbling challenge. They must try to convince followers that life is more than money and pleasure.
They must try, in a world that tells people to stay beautiful, rich, young and powerful, to persuade followers that none of these things matter.
In short, they are faced with an almost impossible task. No wonder when God came to Moses and asked him to lead his people, Moses suggested God choose his brother instead.
I mean, who would want the job?
Following their faith
The answer, it seems, is that the job wants you. Most clerics I speak to feel they were called to the role. Not in some flashy, Cecil B. DeMille way. Not a bolt of lighting or a burning bush. Just a small voice inside them that said, “This is your path.”
Of course, small voices don’t make headlines. And in recent years, we’ve seen too many loud and frightening “men of God” acting like anything but.
We’ve seen Catholic priests do unspeakable things to children. We’ve seen Muslim clerics calling for mass murder. We’ve seen Pat Robertson tell the world who should be assassinated. We’ve seen a rabbi convicted of arranging his wife’s death. We’ve seen TV evangelists showering themselves in money.
Headlines like these make you think religious leaders are little more than power mongers with fancy garments.
But that’s wrong.
For the hundreds of thousands of small-town pastors, synagogue rabbis, monastery ministers or mosque clerics, the job involves no TV cameras and no newspaper reporters. In fact, it’s the opposite. Most of the time is spent trying to get someone to listen.
A rabbi I know, Albert Lewis, one of the wisest men I’ve ever met, once told me this story. I’m going to paraphrase it here:
There’s a door-to-door salesman. And he had one customer who never wanted to buy anything. “Maybe tomorrow,” the salesman would politely say.
But every day he came back, the customer got angrier and angrier. “I don’t want anything. Don’t come back!” But the salesman always smiled and said, “Maybe tomorrow.”
Finally, one day, the customer got so mad, he spit in the face of the salesman.
The salesman wiped the spit from his cheek, looked up in the sky and said, “Hmm. It must be raining.”
That, the rabbi said, is what the job is really like.
Living life the right way
I think of some of the clerics I’ve had a chance to meet or work with. Many have been at weddings and funerals. But some have been at shelters, dishing out food. Some have swung hammers, building homes for the less fortunate. Some have counseled young soldiers off to war.
If I had to pick one trait that was present in all of these men and women, it would be calmness. A certain serenity that they were doing something that mattered. That can’t be easy when people so often, metaphysically, spit in your face, ignore God, ignore ritual.
So on this nontraditional column day, I’d like to thank the group that serves between God and man. Perhaps for a few hours today, they can feel what the world might be like if we paid more attention to the good lessons they try to share.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).