Do you ever have one of those moments that causes you to question your own sanity? Have you ever found yourself making a statement with absolute certainty, only to discover that what you THOUGHT was utterly factual might actually not be true? Have you ever rubbed your eyes in puzzlement and asked yourself, “Are my senses deceiving me?”
I had one of those moments the other day.
Awhile back, we posted an article calling into question preachers who feel the need to use their honorary doctorate degrees even though they otherwise belittle education. I’d mentioned that our former pastor, Pastor Smith (not his real name), was quite free with referring to himself as “Doctor,” to the point of having his title chiseled into the large stone sign at the front of the church property.
I should describe the church sign in a bit more detail. The church name, Living Word Church (a pseudonym), is at the top of the sign, in very large lettering in the trademark calligraphy-style font that’s used in all of the church literature. Beneath that is a lighted digital display that shows service times, although it is sometimes changed to announce special services or guest ministers. Then, beneath that, is a narrow strip of stone (or concrete) material that contains the pastors’ names carved in a smaller, different style of lettering.
Well, a couple of days ago, while running some errands, I found myself driving past our former church. I hadn’t been down that road in quite some time – perhaps a few months – so I took a moment to slow down a little and check the place out. I’m still interested in how Living Word Church is doing. After all, we invested four years of our lives into that ministry.
You can imagine my surprise when I suddenly noticed that the church sign no longer showed Pastor Smith’s title. Instead of saying, “Living Word Church, Dr. Mike T. and Mary Smith, Pastors,” it now reads, “Living Word Church, Pastors Mike T. and Mary Smith.”
The pastors’ names are still carved into that narrow stone strip. But Pastor Smith is no longer referred to as “Doctor.”
And that has caused me to totally question my own senses.
You see, I can’t imagine that they would have gone to the trouble to change the strip of stone that contained Pastor and Mary Smith’s names. Pastor Smith continues to use his honorary (or diploma mill, we’re not totally sure) doctorate in several places on the church website. Since a website is a lot easier to change than a stone sign, it seems logical to me that if Smith had suddenly gotten an etiquette lesson about the proper use of honorary titles (or been stricken by conscience over his fraudulent use of such a title), they would have removed the fake “Dr.” from the website first. Right?
I have an incredibly vivid, absolutely definite memory of a Sunday afternoon when I had to bring one of the kids to a church music practice. Finding myself with time to kill, and not wanting to hang out in the church sanctuary for hours before the evening service started, I drove down the road and got myself a nice cup of coffee and a decadent dessert.
Then I returned to the church parking lot and sat in the car to finish my coffee, staring off into space and just letting my thoughts wander. It was actually one of those little moments that was highly pleasurable, one of those times when you just feel good about life. I can vividly remember the steam from my coffee as it fogged up my sunglasses. I can remember my eyes landing on the church sign, contemplating Pastor Smith’s Ph.D., and being glad in the knowledge that our pastor was such a learned man.
Some weeks later, when my dad happened to visit our church and was asking me questions about Pastor Smith’s educational background, I can remember asserting with absolute confidence that Smith had a real degree. I can remember telling my dad, “I can’t imagine that they’d chisel that into the sign if it were just honorary.”
But now? Right at this moment? It’s no longer chiseled in stone!
So I’ll have to admit, I am absolutely and totally puzzled. Was I deceived by my very own senses? Did the sign actually never refer to Pastor Smith as “Doctor”? Did my mind, somehow, in what I now see to be its somewhat brainwashed state back then, just fill in Pastor Smith’s title, just IMAGINE it said “Doctor,” even though it wasn’t actually part of the sign?
Or is it possible that I’m not the only one making rumblings about Smith’s use of this honorary title? Maybe others have been raising questions, and maybe Pastor Smith decided to retool the sign?
I guess you’ll have to chalk this up to yet one more thing that I’m not sure of.
But in the interest of full honesty, I must amend my earlier article with this: Although Pastor Smith continues to use his title in introductions and on the church website, it is – for now, at least – NOT carved in stone on the church sign.
Any way you look at it, it’s bizarre.