We pastors learn early on that revealing our vocation to strangers can stop a conversation cold. There we are, having an enjoyable chat with a stranger, when that person asks, “So what do you do?” The minute we use the “M word” (minister), the conversation turns weird. The person either politely says, “That’s nice” and loses interest in us or apologizes for a profane word used earlier. In the latter case, we explain that we are not sitting in judgment; but the dialogue, even if it continues, becomes stilted or superficial.
There are exceptions, of course. Occasionally, the conversation goes to a deeper level and a faith-sharing opportunity develops.
The more common reaction though, is that the conversation simply shuts down, which is probably an indicator of the secular nature of our society. American culture is sometimes described as being hostile to religion, but I do not find that to be true. In nearly forty years of ministry, the mere fact of my profession as a preacher of the Word has never evoked hostility. It has, however, often elicited discomfort or skepticism. So perhaps “ill at ease with the Word” and “skeptical” are more useful terms for defining American secularity.
The question for us is, “How do we live faithful lives in a secular culture?” This question is similar to the one the Judahite exiles to whom our Bible Lesson originally was addressed had to consider.