One of my summer goals is to read Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. This morning I was struck by Trollope’s description of Mark Robarts, the vicar of Framley: “In person he was manly, tall, and fair-haired, with a square forehead denoting intelligence rather than thought, with clear white hands, filbert nails, and a power of dressing himself in such a manner that no one should ever observe of him that his clothes were either good or bad, shabby or smart.”
It was Trollope’s characterization of the parson as intelligent rather than thoughtful that caught my attention. Here is someone who has a greater capacity to be well thought of than to think well. He knows how to fit in and has an ambition to do so. This is a good temperament to have if you want to be a politician. But not so good if you are called to be a prophet.
Trollope’s portrayal of Robarts makes me wonder how often my ministry has been shaped by my desire to be liked and improve my position. Or how often I have felt it was sufficient to exercise my intellect, when reflection was what was really needed. “He had too much tact, too much common sense, to believe himself to be the paragon his mother thought him” Trollope writes of Robarts. “Self-conceit was not, perhaps, his greatest danger. Had he possessed more of it, he might have been a less agreeable man, but his course before him might on that account have been safer.”
From our strengths and social virtues, O Lord, deliver us.