In much of my career as a philosophy
professor, it was necessary to engage in considerable self-promotion.
In the college setting there were very few openings each
year for rank and salary advancements. To demonstrate one's qualifications
through various professional activities, it was necessary
to develop strategies to convince department chairpersons, faculty
and presidents that an applicant deserved to be among the
few moved up the ladder. Self-promotion was also required to
for one's continuing education and for projects. It was also
necessary to lobby for a satisfactory teaching schedule, preferred
particular courses to teach, sufficient office and classroom
equipment, secretarial assistance, and for effective involvement
in the institution's
governance. The work as a professor was very competitive
and not always congenial among colleagues.
GUIDELINES FOR SELF PROMOTION
Experts on self-promotion have provided
guidelines on how to achieve one's objectives, such as "set goals
and plan your campaign," "focus on the specific people you
need to know for their direct or indirect support," "become
known in the broader community through media exposure," "develop
and use a website, brochure, newsletter, or clever stationery," "dress
appropriately: look the part," and "learn techniques for
convincing people." All of this self-promotion can be carried
out aggressively or assertively, clumsily or with style, at the wrong
time or the right moment, and, justly or ruthlessly. Furthermore, even
when one has used the most honorable, successful strategies, one must
deal with mean-spirited responses from envious colleagues. The celebration
of each other's accomplishments is not the norm in academic circles!
Like our culture, resentment against achievement permeates the hearts
and minds of those serving in many vocations.
SELF-PROMOTION COMPATIBLE WITH CHRISTIANITY
I am convinced that
vocational self-promotion implemented ethically is compatible with
being a Christian. Graceful ambition can be a sign of healthy self-acceptance,
self-regard, self-confidence, and enthusiasm for the work one is called
DANGERS OF SELF-PROMOTION
Nonetheless, there are
dangers for those required to compete in their work. Self-promotion
can spill over into all areas of our lives and even become addictive.
Among friends and family as well as in all activities we might demand
center stage. We might create inappropriate competition outside the
workplace. We may become seduced by the exhilaration of recognition
in what we do and demand the same in all our relationships. In the
extreme, we might join with a movie character who shouts out in anguished
exhaustion, "To each man, he is the center of the universe." We
could come to believe that the maxim "Always watch out for number
one" fits well for us in all situations, personal as well as
occupational. Each of us could come to live out the conviction, "I am the clue to my life – and everyone else’s."
JOHN THE BAPTIST AS A CORRECTIVE
To all such excesses
John the Baptist serves as a correcting hero. Although he was an ambitious
attention-getter, even his career efforts were not ultimately for
himself. His very job was to be a "pointer" to someone else.
He appears to have set goals and planned his campaign wisely. He focused
on people he needed to know for their support. John became known in
the broader community. He learned techniques for convincing people.
Whether he dressed the part appropriately and how successful he was
are arguable issues; and, I doubt that he had anything like a website,
newsletter, brochure, or clever stationery.
It might escape our attention that John was
a faithful pointer to a low-class Jew, Jesus, as God's Anointed One - Jesus,
the embodiment of the Creator's purposes for humanity. For those whose lives
have been surrendered to habitual self-promotion and unbridled ambition,
John's call is no incidental matter. The pressures and anxieties accompanying
some vocational self-promotion may be necessary and even exhilarating. However,
the constant pointing to oneself in personal life as well can be isolating
and hellish. John's messages to turn around, to repent, and to be realigned
with God’s Will have been with us throughout the centuries as warnings
to those who have become the centers of their little worlds. People so centered
are on the wrong road, a dead-end journey burning them up in exhaustion and
delusions of grandeur.
SAINT ANDREW’S AND INTEGRITY-PALM BEACH CALLED TO BE FAITHFUL
POINTERS WITH JOHN
As is every
other Christian congregation and parish activity, Saint Andrew’s and Integrity-Palm Beach is called
to share in the ministry of John the Baptist. Uniquely with John, you and I
are called to be faithful pointers to Jesus Christ and the social justices
flowing from God's Word. Our mission is not only to care for deserving people,
but to invite them into Christ's fellowship – even though they might
have been brutalized by Christian churches. In this place, you and I as the
Church worship and give thanks to God through Christ; we learn and teach; we
gather for forgiveness, healing, fellowship and care in Christ's Name; we are
guided by Jesus Christ who is the clue to all we are and all we do. If we fail
to be pointers to him, we become one more social agency which happens to be
housed in a museum of ancient folk tales and rituals.
FATHER HAMILTON AS AN ENABLING POINTER
As a result of Fr. Hamilton’s
gracious invitation and the Vestry's approval, about four years ago I began
to serve a bit in this parish as a "retired priest-in-residence." A
joy of this ministry is that it did not result from my usual vocational self-promotion.
Frankly, Bob and I had become disenchanted with Episcopal – and other
- churches in this region, and we were doubtful that we would ever again
find what one bishop calls a "divine match" between ourselves and
any regional congregation. Now, these years later, we feel very much at home
and absolutely well matched with the parish’s Saturday evening ministries.
I'm especially delighted with the warm collegiality and trust Fr. Hamilton
has offered me as a priest. He and I are very different personalities with
our own particular gifts. I appreciate his willingness to put up with my
independence and preference for uncomplicated Saturday liturgies. While other
clergy have literally walked away from me as a partnered, gay man, Fr. Bill
has treated me with the inclusivity for which this parish is becoming known
- thanks to his prophetic courage and pastoral care. I suspect that his capacity
for such priestly collegiality is his commitment to serve as an enabling
pointer to Christ, not to himself.
OUR SHARE IN THE BAPTIST’S MINISTRY
I remain enthusiastic about
what Bob and I are apparently called to do at this time in our life. However,
whether employed or not, John the Baptist stands there always insisting that
all of us are to be witnesses “to testify to the light” - not
to ourselves. His prophetic invitation for us to seek justice and to get
back on track when we stray is coupled with the assurance of God's grace,
mercy and forgiveness. John's faithful pointing to Jesus is also a call to
us individually, as a parish, and as the fellowship of Integrity-Palm Beach;
we are reminded that God's clue to truly fulfilling and purposeful lives
is not the person we see in the mirror, or “the beautiful people,” or
others we may idolize. Rather, we are to share in the Baptist’s ministry
as just a few pointers of the millions needed. We point and witness to the
clue to authentic living, he who is born in Bethlehem and annually in our
hearts, none other than Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as
a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He
himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent
priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He
confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And
they asked him, "What
then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you
the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who
are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about
yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the
wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah
said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why
then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor
the prophet?" John
answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you
do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the
of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where
John was baptizing.