Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's Coming Down....

Hi everyone,

I haven't posted much in a while and I've decided it's time for some changes, one of which is to bring this blog to a close. 

It has helped me tremendously to write these words, and some of you who have followed and commented have become good friends. I hope you know how precious you are to me, and my goal is to continue our relationship, if you want. 

I'll leave this up a couple of more days and then it will be gone, but I have other things to write. You can follow me in other places. Just give me an email... but you might hurry because I'm going to close that, too.  


Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Moment With a Mother

I’m sitting in a room in the Critical Care Unit of the Cancer Hospital. Actually, the place tries very hard to stay upbeat, so they call this Special Care. Whatever. 

Next to me is a petite woman who is in her seventies. She’s a grandmother, a retired nurse, and the mother of the dying man who lies in the bed in front of us. The pain medicine does its work and he drifts in and out of consciousness. Sometimes he is with us, but most of them time is in moments of the past where he is healthier and happier. He speaks to the people in those moments—the words make no sense to his mother and me, but fit perfectly in the context of his moment.

Our moments are spent watching him, waiting for that last breath, which is imminent but the exact moment is unknown. 

The woman rises from her chair and flutters about, straightening the room, speaking of the latest novel she’s reading, checking her son’s feet to make sure they are not cold. And then she sits again, ready to share her dread of the moment that when her son will no longer be alive. 

She tells me about him as a child, how he related to his sisters, how smart and artistic he was.  She lets me see the tear slide down her cheek when she tells me that she just can’t leave this room. She takes her meals here, and sleeps in the recliner, which she says is quite comfortable. 

I reach over and pat the top of her hand. I’d like to do more. I’d like to hold and perhaps kiss her hand, but that would be too forward.  Actually, I’d like to hold her, and whisper that it will be okay, but that wouldn’t be right either. I’d like to promise her that I’ll take care of her, but I won’t be able to. I’ll have to move on to another room in another hospital soon enough to not quite care for someone else who watches a loved one die.

After he’s gone, she won’t be able to come to church because seeing me reminds her of my being with her in the hospital room and she’ll remember I was at the funeral dinner and that I spoke at the service although she won’t remember any of the words.  From then on, she’ll associate me with the death of her son. Some people come to hate me for that, but she probably wouldn’t. She’d tell everyone how well I treated her, but find reasons not to come to church or see me if she can avoid it.  However, she’ll send in her tithe each month and promise everyone that she’ll be back soon. 

I’m sad for her, but I’m also sad for me because I like this one and I’ll miss her. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Bitch With the Checkbook

There's an old woman in the congregation whom I genuinely dislike. 

I'm sorry but it's true.  And I'm not the only one who doesn't like her. 

People tolerate her because she's in "the club." By that I mean she grew up here knowing others in the community, and she has a little money.  I say people tolerate her, but she has pretty much used up the good will of the community.  At age ninety-five, she's had plenty of time to use up everyone.  

She once demanded that I round up some people to help her at her convenience to pack her belongings and move her to an apartment. It's not like she was a poor person with no resources. She could hire every bit of the work done to her specifications.  But no, she felt like people were obligated to help her.  She was "so disappointed" when I told her there wasn't going to be anyone available. (Actually, there were quite a few people who tried to help her).  

She once called me over to her home to give me a sizable check for the church. I really didn't want to go, but the church wasn't at a place for me to tell her to take her check and shove it up her dried up old... whatever.  She took out her checkbook, wrote a word, then looked up to complain about something. She'd write another word, then look up and do it all again. I spent two hours listening to her moan and shed faux tears about how badly she has been treated over the years. And that's the last time I will be held hostage in that manner. 

Regarding her money, she constantly waves it in my face as she tries to get me to do her bidding.  I'm sure she thinks she's forcing me when in fact, I'm gathering all the kindness I can to keep from calling her the bitch she is and walking out.  

Recently, she asked if someone would give her rides to church (I can't tell you how many times I listened to her tell how the six accidents she'd had in the space of a week were other people's fault). No one was willing to volunteer to take her.  They'd all had enough.  

If this were a matter of dementia making her unpleasant, I would continue to try to help her in some way.  But you know what? She has always been bitter, cranky, and demanding and she has driven off or used up a sizable number of people in her life. This is a matter of someone reaping what she sows.  

On the other hand, most of us can blame our problems on our own choices and actions. 

The only thing that keeps me from completely writing her off is not her money--that's working against her, frankly. If she were poor and crazy I'd still be trying to help her. The thing that keeps me from shunning her is that she is a human being in this community and for whatever reason, she is alone and in my parish... or jurisdiction... or you know what I mean.   

Saturday, March 8, 2014

True Names of the Church

I was thinking of how the religious landscape of the nation is changing rapidly, and the churches we’ve known as we grew up are disappearing, perhaps not fast enough. Actually, it’s amazing how long these churches have held on. I guess the same stubbornness that made them drive themselves in the ground has also kept them in existence longer than we would expect. 

I drive around the neighborhood and look at their buildings with their clever signs and I consider what their names would be if they reflected their nature.  Here are a few that came to me. Perhaps you recognize them:  

The Church of Hateful Condemnation  
Commonly referred to as “The Gay Haters Church.”
Formerly the Church of Racist Bigotry. 

First Petrified Septuagenarian (FPS)

First Errant Church of the Young and Clueless
        The grandchildren of members of the FPS but they're drastically different. They're new and fresh because they play the drums in worship, plus they have a new volleyball net.  

Baptist Bullies of Main Street 
          Sounds more like a bar, doesn’t it? Or maybe a Broadway musical?

The Church of MeTooism
  As in:  
     “We have a new volleyball net, too.”
     “We have an LED sign that looks like it should hang over a strip club, too.”
     “We stood up for Jesus and against the Gays by eating at ChicFillet, too.” 

The Self Righteous Brothers Bible Church
         A split from The Church of Hateful Condemnation because it was getting too liberal.  This is the exciting new nondenominational church that celebrates that good old time religion.     

Lackluster Saints Community Church
Celebrating the sanctity of dullness, bringing people to new heights of tedium

United Hysteria Fellowship
          Even they don’t know what they’re saying, but they’re so sincere

Sunday, January 5, 2014


This is the place I go to speak the things I can't say to anyone.... 

I was having a good day today until I went to the church’s grief support group. 

This week they addressed the loss of children. Some had lost grown children. Others had lost them when they were small.  My own children are alive and healthy, for which I am so thankful. 

But I had these... flashbacks, if that's the right word.
I remember being with a young single mother who stood devastated as she looked at the tiny body of her beautiful daughter lying in the casket. Less than a year later, I performed her funeral, too, and I listened to HER mother wail the words, “I can’t stand it!”

I remember tears of lots of parents as they mashed tissues into their faces in a vain attempt to squash their sobs. Other parents simply let it all out and wailed uncontrollably.  I remember them all.

The professional part of me looks at myself and thinks, “Post Traumatic Stress.” But how does it help to know that? Say it’s true... what’s to be done? 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mirror Mirror

Something unusual happened today. 

A guy showed up at the nursing home just as I was about to begin worship time. I thought he was a street person  because of the ragged clothes and uncut hair, but he explained that he traveled from town to town singing gospel songs to nursing home residents.  And then he pulled out his beautiful Martin guitar that made me say "oooh," and "aaaah." He explained that a friend who supported him in his ministry had given it to him.  

I invited him to sing for us.  "I don't want to intrude," he said.  

I said that in fact I was tired and would be glad to let him take my place, and so he did.  

He went up and down the hallways strumming his instrument and getting people's attention and then he played for them for the better part of an hour, singing the old hymns like I do, telling amusing stories that I've told before, all with a kind smile and crinkly eyes. At the end, he went to all the persons, shaking their hands, touching their shoulders, blessing them with his words.  

He has been traveling across the country doing this for nine years and has been in all fifty states.  He has friend who send him a little support as he travels alone in an old minivan.

He held the hand of one nursing home resident and beamed into her face, and she looked over at me and said, "Pastor, he's a lot like you!" she said.  

I looked and he did resemble me in size and appearance (meaning he was big with a gray beard and long hair).  

While he played, I called my office and arranged to have a hotel room provided for him that night. When he was done singing, I took him to lunch and bought us hamburgers. 

He asked about my family. I told him we had two teenage boys. He asked gently if they gave me any problems.  I said no, that they had been free of trouble, made straight As and always made me proud.  

"I wish I could claim credit for them," I said, "But the truth is that they were born this way."  

I always say that, but this time I went on and told him the rest of the story. "The fact is I haven't done enough for them.  I've left them alone too much. I've worked too much, and been too tired to do much for them."

My throat closed and my eyes teared up. I never told anyone that part. He reached up and and put his hand on my shoulder for comfort, without saying anything--the same exact gesture I had done for countless people. 

I looked at him and really, it was amazing how much he looked like me in the face, with crinkly smile lines around sad eyes that had seen too much.  I could see the same dimples that people say I have behind the beard. He was almost the same size as me (which is substantial), and he had an easy manner which is how I appear to most people. 

It felt like I was looking in a mirror only the image of me was five or ten years older than I am now.  

And I got to wondering if he was me, sent from the near future to bless me enough to keep me from cracking up.  

Big Tipper

I go to this cafe occasionally. It’s about the only place in town I can go for breakfast if I want something other than a mac-biscuit.  

Anyway, I left a huge tip the other day. It had nothing to do with wink she gave me, or the cleavage she flashed me, although those things didn’t hurt my feelings (I think she’s like this with most men). No, it was the pat on the shoulder she gave me as she walked away.*

I like to be touched.

I’ve mentioned that I touch people a lot. Shake the hand, pat the shoulder, or even hug if it’s okay. And I do it because people need it. If they don’t want the touch, I don’t force it, of course.  

But all that touching… it’s me giving something of myself to them. They need it, I give it. It’s all part of the service, folks.  

But a waitress who touches me, and then brings me food….

That’s worth a big tip.  

*Don't get me wrong--cleavage and a wink always put me in a good mood. Thought I better "fess up" about that.