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Pastors don't preach to eager scholars, but to silent sufferers in every pew.

I was just about to bend my six-foot-four frame into our eggshell blue 1952 Plymouth, to drive to a little church in the decayed center of Paterson, New Jersey. I was going to be ordained into the Christian ministry, a passage for which I felt tremblingly unprepared. Before getting into the car, I turned to my friend and former seminary teacher George Stob, who was standing by, and asked him: "George, do you have one last good word for me before I take this plunge?" George shot his answer back, as if it were long coiled tight in his mind, the one thing he thought I still needed to know. "Remember," he said, "that when you preach, you will be preaching to ordinary people."

Thanks a lot, I thought. For this kind of wisdom you get to be a professor in a theological seminary? As if I didn't know! Anyway, I stuffed his bromide into the bulging bag of expendable data I had garnered from seminary teachers and drove off to be ordained as a minister of the Gospel.

As it turned out, though, in my ...

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