I don’t know of any other profession in which it is quite as easy to fake it as in ours. By adopting a reverential demeanor, cultivating a stained-glass voice, slipping occasional words like “eschatology” into conversation….not often enough actually to confuse people but enough to keep them aware that our habitual train of thought is a cut above the pew level–we are trusted, without any questions asked, as stewards of the mysteries. Most people…know that we are in fact surrounded by enormous mysteries: birth and death, good and evil, suffering and joy, grace, mercy, forgiveness. It takes only a hint here and a gesture there, an empathetic sigh, or a compassionate touch to convey that we are at home and expert in these deep matters.
Even when in occasional fits of humility and honesty we disclaim sanctity, we are not believed. People have a need to be reassured that someone is in touch with the ultimate things. Their own interior lives are a muddle of shopping lists and good intentions, guilty adulteries (whether fantasized or actual) and episodes of heroic virtue, desires for holiness mixed with greed for self-satisfaction. They hope to do better someday beginning maybe tomorrow or at the latest next week. Meanwhile, they need someone around who can stand in for them, on whom they can project their wishes for a life pleasing to God. If we provide a bare bones outline of pretence, they take it as the real thing and run with it, imputing to us clean hands and pure hearts.
More from the introduction of “Working the Angles” by Eugene Peterson.