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One of my daughters asked if I’d ever want to teach at one of my synod’s seminaries. I thought about it for a moment before finally admitting my willingness. I’d do it, but only if allowed to teach homiletics—the art of writing and delivering a sermon. I think my denomination is sometimes weak in this department. Indeed, our pulpits are brimming with sound doctrine. This is essential. Still, far too many listeners struggle to believe their preachers’ sincerity. They have a great handle on the formulas. They can, as Rev. Dr. David Scaer once mused, “tell the people off for five minutes, and then tell them how it’s going to be okay for another five.” More to my point, I get the sense our seminary fledglings are learning to tell people about Jesus rather than introducing them to someone they’ve met and wholeheartedly trust for themselves.

I could be wrong. I probably am. Either way, a cardinal rule for my class would be one I’ve heralded for decades. It is, quite simply, “Don’t be weird.” It’s likely I would restate this rule at the beginning of every session. I’d remind the students that if the way they’re speaking from the pulpit would sound far too weird in normal conversation, don’t do it—unless, of course, they’re deliberately demonstrating weirdness. Otherwise, don’t do it. Be a normal human being. If your congregation wanted an overly dramatic, faux-pausing William Shatner, they could’ve stayed home and watched Star Trek.

If, after a few sessions, the seminary administration decided to move me from homiletics to pastoral care, my principal rule would not change. The first words from my mouth at each session would be, “Don’t be weird.” And each time I said it, I’d share an example of what not to do when caring for parishioners. My first lesson’s introduction:

“Don’t be weird. Do not stand while urinating when visiting the facilities during a home visit. Sit. No one wants to hear his or her pastor’s burbling stream. Don’t be weird.”

Or perhaps it might be:

“Don’t be weird. I know beards are wonderful. As you can see, I have one. But if yours reaches your belt buckle, trim it—at least to mid-chest. If the parishioner wanted a visit from ZZ Top, it’s likely they wouldn’t have joined your church. Don’t be weird.”

Or another might be:

“Don’t be weird. When greeting people after worship, try to do more than a bow with your hands in a prayerfully tented position while saying, ‘The Lord be with you.’ If the people wanted to visit with an animatronic character, they could’ve skipped out to Chuck E. Cheese or visited the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom. Interact with your people. Give the men a firm handshake. Hug the old ladies who want one. Reach down to the children for the same. Don’t be weird.”

Again, if, after a few sessions in pastoral care, the administration thought I might be better suited for liturgics, I’d carry my rule with me.

“Don’t be weird,” I’d say. “Do not chant the liturgy if you cannot carry a tune. Speak it. No one came to church to hear someone torturing kittens. If anyone did come to church for such things, you likely have a serial killer in your congregation. In the meantime, refrain from serially killing the liturgy. In the same fashion, do not sing the liturgy as though you’re recording a hit single or auditioning for “America’s Got Talent.” The odds are pretty good that Simon Cowell won’t be in your pews. Either chant the liturgy accordingly or speak it. Do not maul it, and do not perform it. Don’t be weird.”

If, after a few sessions, the seminary administration decides I’m not a good fit for teaching any of their disciplines, all would be well. I’d be right back where my chief rule, measured against all things, pays the greatest dividends: real people in a real congregation.

Looking back at the words I’ve just written, I’m reminded of my and my family’s time yesterday on vacation visiting with some friends. A bottle of Rabbit Hole’s Heigold edition uncorked, these friends asked an intriguing question. Fully aware that the Thoma family avoids as much contact with other humans as possible while on vacation, how is it that these friends were included in their restful time? How is it that the Thoma family was even willing to drive two and a half hours to see them?

Firstly, because they are as I’ve described them—friends—the kind you knew would be good friends within minutes, not days. They’re the kind who mirror one’s self in far too many ways to be accidental. Secondly, in the middle of all life’s disconnecting weirdness, God sprinkled some connective normalcy. They’re proof. He brought along people who, as Cicero described, are truly capable of doubling each other’s joys while dividing the misery. And if that weren’t enough, they’re not true weirdos, as in, they aren’t pietists. They’re a clergy family at home in their own sphere with a pleasant dram and easy conversation.

As I mentioned, the Heigold edition was a part of the pleasantries exchanged during the visit. They cared for us with a well-adorned charcuterie and their time. I brought the whiskey. I’m glad I did. It was more than suitable for such a refreshingly weird-less moment.

With a strict nose of cinnamon and buttered toast, the Heigold cradles the moment’s friendliness. It doesn’t intrude. Instead, it hovers like a watchful servant ready to make its master’s time with friends enjoyable. And it succeeds.

A sip reveals its attentiveness, occasionally stepping forward to whisper singed cloves and sugar, dry oak, and peppered rye into the conversation. A share of water amplifies its kindly vocabulary, carrying the pepper back toward the nose’s cinnamon.

The finish is a longer swath of spicy caramel. Its prompts, “Please stay and enjoy another.” And you’re inclined to do so. Why? At first, it might seem right to stay because you’re on vacation. When vacationing, time often has little meaning. And yet, you’re with friends who aren’t vacationing, and even among friends, overstaying is weird. Remember, don’t be weird.

Nevertheless, you relent to the whiskey’s prompt. And why? Because in this circumstance, you’re inclined to preserve your vacation formula. Vacationing means resting with one’s beloved—with family. An overstay is not weird with family, and right now, that’s who you’re with.

With that, you pour one more and continue in conversation, knowing the time is not weird but divine—a gift—and you intend to rest in it.