Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pastor Andre Trocme

I have previously written a post about the village of Le Chambon, France and the conspiracy of goodness that happened there during World War II. You can read (or re-read) that post here. More recently, I mentioned that a friend had loaned me her copy of Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip Hallie in this post. I have found the book very helpful as part of my sabbatical reading list and in reflecting on faith communities that have learned to practice discernment and resistance.

This post is not a review of the book nor a recap of what I have previously written. Rather, I'm intrigued about the role that Pastor Andre Trocme played in that story and in the larger sense I'm pondering what good pastoral leadership looks like. What can be learned from his example for parish clergy in our own day?

In the book, Hallie writes that if you were to walk into any home in Le Chambon after the war and ask any person who had been an adult during the war years "Why did Le Chambon do these things against the government and for the refugees while the nearby Protestant village of Le Mazet did not?" that you would receive only one answer: "It was Pastor Andre Trocme." (page 46) Trocme was "the soul of Le Chambon."

What made that so? While he was considered to be a good preacher and he raised up (young) lay leaders to lead small-group Bible studies and he offered solid pastoral care, ultimately it seems to me that he had a vision of the Kingdom of God. Because he loved the people entrusted to his care, he kept pointing them to that vision. They developed a deep sense of mutual affection and trust, but it wasn't "about him." It was about Jesus.

When people insisted, after the war, that the people of Chambon had done something "good" they refused to accept praise. They insisted that they were simply doing what had to be done. "Who else could help them? Things had to be done and we were there to help, that is all!"

This reaction reminds me of my seminary New Testament professor at Drew, Kalyan Dey, who liked to remind us that nothing in the parable of the so-called "Good" Samaritan suggested that he was in fact a "good" person. Kalyan made the point by suggesting that when the Samaritan saw the man by the side of the road, for all we know he was returning from a brothel, got off his donkey, spat on the ground, and said, "Oh, shit!"

Dramatic, I know. But his read on the parable was that what the Samaritan saw was a fellow human being in need and he acted on that. Telling people to be "good" Samaritans doesn't make them good. There was a study done years ago on this very question at Princeton Seminary where students were studying the parable and told they needed to go take a test in another building on campus immediately. On the way was a "plant" - a person in need who was the real "test." Most of the seminarians passed by.

The people of Chambon were similar to the Samaritan in Jesus' story; they weren't trying to be morally good, but simply saw a need and did what had to be done. Maybe some of them said "oh shit!" when they began to realize what was required of them. But they had been encouraged in this direction by their pastor, consistently. They knew their own history as a small Protestant minority in Catholic France. They knew what the Lord required of them. And they did it.

We are called to be faithful. Not necessarily good, and definitely not successful: just to be present to the world we live in with open eyes.

Jesus put it succinctly: love God, love your neighbor. When pressed and asked, "who is my neighbor?" he told a story about a foreigner. Not necessarily a "good" one - just a fellow human being, who showed compassion and mercy to another fellow traveler. Go and do that, Jesus said.

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