Like most UUs, I strongly affirm the inherent dignity of each person. But there is the dignity inherent to being a human (I would say a living) being, and then there is dignity that you either don as a mantle by how you act, or cast aside. From time to time, I find myself wishing people would behave with a little more dignity so that we might regard them with the respect their roles deserve.
For example, California has a new Chief Justice of its Supreme Court. The radio piece the day of her swearing-in opened with a little clip of the governor saying, with a dignity befitting the occasion, if an unavoidably comic accent,* “so help you God.” And then we heard a speech from later in the ceremony, spoken by the new Chief Justice herself, who related how when she was a little girl, she used to walk with her family through the capital, past these very buildings, but they didn’t ever think of actually going in. Hm, I thought–so far so good, a humble and down-to-earth anecdote–and then she gushed, “And now we’re sitting in the front row!” I was embarrassed for her, and for the state. Did she really mean to imply that that was the most important aspect of this ceremony? She is the highest judge in our courts, and anyone who enters her courtroom is subject to the strictest protocol of respect. Could she maybe reflect that in the ceremony, and save the giggly “OMG, can you imagine, me a Chief Justice!” stuff for her private family party afterwards?
I have been to a few ordinations that lose their balance this way too. Comments on the personal characteristics of the new minister have their place, but they sometimes dominate to the point that the ceremony feels more like a high school graduation (or even worse, the party afterwards) than a sacred initiation. The “whoo hoo, you did it!” tone (and words) that I’ve heard directed at the ordinand convey to the congregation that this is just a personal achievement of the minister, not about them at all. They also say that the whole ceremony is about itself, about that day, rather than about the ministry to follow, which is like making a wedding all about a wedding instead of about marriage. New colleagues, if that’s not the way you want your ministry to appear, then beg your participants to focus on the meaning of ministry, not on you. If they compliment you, smile with the humility you surely feel as you imagine the enormity of the burden you are accepting. And though you may be thinking “I made it!” yourself–it’s only natural, after the long way you’ve come–then please share it with your friends privately. It really doesn’t belong in the service. This is an hour in which we focus, together, on the holy power and the world’s needs that called you to ministry, and devote ourselves to serving them, with your leadership.
*Before I get deluged by the Austrian Anti-Defamation Committee: I don’t think Austrians are inherently comical. Just the ones whose accented “hasta la vista, baby”s are seared on our brains.