Reinhold Niebuhr circa 1916…

Excerpted from Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic:

“Doesn’t this denominational business wear on one’s nerves?  If I were a doctor, people would consult me according to the skill I had and the reputation I could acquire.  But being a minister, I can appeal only to people who are labeled as I am.  Yesterday that I professor I met asked me what denomination I belonged to.  Being told, he promptly pigeonholed me into my proper place and with a superior air assumed that my mind was as definitely set by my denominational background as is that of an African Hottentot by his peculiar environment.

Perhaps if I belonged to a larger denomination this wouldn’t irk me so much.  I suffer from an inferiority complex because of the very numerical weakness of my denomination.  If I belonged to a large one I might strut about claim its glory for myself.  If I give myself to religion as a profession I must find some interdenominational outlet for my activities.  But what?  Secretaries and Y.M.C.A workers are too inarticulate.  They deal too much with machinery and too little with ideas.  I don’t want to be a chauffeur.  Does that mean that I am a minister merely because I am a fairly glib talker?  Who knows?

But let us not be too cynical and too morbidly introspective.  I may find something worth saying in time and escape the fate of being a mere talker.  At any rate I swear that I will never aspire to be a preacher of pretty sermons.  I’ll keep them rough enough just to escape the temptation of degenerating into an elocutionist.  Maybe I had better stop quoting so much poetry.  But that is hardly the point.  Plenty of sermons lack both beauty and meaning.