Monday, October 26, 2009

Colder than a Corpse

Everything about the room said "money." Rich dark furniture, lavish paintings, plush sofas.

The guy who spoke to us looked expensive too--Hollywood haircut, three piece suit that cost more than three months of my salary. And shoes with those cute little tassels. His body was finely conditioned from the best gym money could buy.

I hitched up my jeans in a self conscious gesture.

Was he a lawyer? Nope. Bank loan manager? Nuh uhh.

He was a funeral director.

I was with the grieving family not as their minister, but as a friend. I made it my job to reassure them they did not have to take out a second mortgage to pay for this guy's next manicure and tanning session.

I picked up one of those decorative magazines from the coffee table in front of me, and for some reason that bothered him so much that I think it raised his temperature a smidge higher than the stiffs he kept in the back room. It was brief but his whole body twitched. Like a little bitty convulsion.

So of course I picked up another and sure enough, he twitched again. Then one more time. Same thing.

We finished with the arrangements and stood, but before he could leave, the man picked up all the mags I had handled, slammed them down on the table, and spread them as precisely as before I had desecrated them with my touch. And then for the briefest of moments he glared at me.

I gave him a big cheesy smile to remember me by. I resisted the urge to pass gas as I walked past him.

He was the tallest, handsomest, most well dressed prick I had ever met. But he was not the most entertaining funeral director I've known. He wasn't even third runner up. And he sure wasn't Miss Congeniality.

I'll tell you about some of the more entertaining ones later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stain Glass Sins

I'm feeling sick right now.

My church will have spent $40,000 on stain glass windows by the end the year. They're pretty, I suppose, although I prefer seeing out to watch kids walk home from school.

For that amount of money we could have built eighteen homes for families in Mexico who currently live in wooden huts with dirt floors. Their new homes would be the size of my living room, but they would have electricity, concrete floors, and functioning outhouses. And those families would have been thrilled.

Which one would honor Christ more? A pretty picture of him holding a child, or a real home where a child could sleep more comfortably tonight?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Does a Preacher Buy Condoms?

So I'm doing my part to keep the population stabilized. I decide to zip into the local pharmacy, on a surreptitious search and retrieve mission. On my way to the designated aisle, I pick up a bag of candy bars to provide cover for the targeted package. Both packages are cradled in one arm and I'm headed for the check out like a wide receiver going for the goal, when a lady from my church rounds the corner of the aisle.

When I say lady, I mean it. She's not one of these grim church women who might not actually know what a condom is. She's just past middle age and a really classy person. I like her and I don't want her to see me lugging an economy sized box of extra thin, lubricated prophylactics.

Before she recognizes me, I dive for a bin full of Halloween masks. She makes eye contact just as I'm burying my potential purchase underneath an item that is also made of latex. But it's not covered completely and I pray (since I'm so religious) that she doesn't look too closely at what I'm trying to conceal.

We visit for a moment before we go our separate ways. If she saw, she doesn't mention it because as I said, she's classy.

I get to the checkout stand. When a guy rings up these kinds of purchases, he usually moves with dispatch to place it in the bag. But not this lady. She picks up the box of condoms and, I'm not kidding, she holds them to her rather ample bosom while she taps in the code. And she's chatty.

"It's mighty warm today, isn't it sir?"

"Mm hmm."

"I see someone is indulging his sweet tooth."

"Beg your pardon? " Oh, she meant the candy bars.

Finally, I'm out the door and safe in my car.

As I leave the parking lot, I notice a drive through window where people can pick up their prescriptions. Couldn't a fellow buy his condoms there as well?

But no, with my luck it wouldn't work out.

First, I don't want to be hollering my order at a friendly plastic pharmacist that repeats my order at maximum volume. He probably wouldn't ask if I wanted fries with that order, but I could imagine what he might say.

"We have a special where you can buy the package with four different flavors."

"Just the plain version."

"You mean vanilla--that's our most popular."

"I mean no flavors please."

"Would you like the combo that comes with personal lubricant and a two liter bottle of soda?"

"No thanks."

"Do you want to supersize that order, sir? "

"No. Well, maybe. I mean no."

"That comes to $29.99, you can pick it up at the second window. Thank you and have a REALLY nice evening." The plastic pharmacist would give a mechanical wink.

Next time, I'm going out of town when I make a liquor run.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

God's Credibility Problem

I often express my dissatisfaction with the people in the Christian movement. I have also maintained that questioning the validity of the church's belief is not the same as challenging the existence of God or his motivation.

But the truth is though I believe in God, he has a credibility problem with me. I'll just stick with one of the bigger problems I have.

"I will send you a counselor (or comforter, or encourager, or helper)." We understand this to be the promise of the Holy Spirit who will come and fill us with something or other. It sounds great because I often feel empty and lonely. I would love to sense a benevolent mystical presence within me or even outside of me. But I don't. I thought I had in times past, but I doubt those past impressions of mine.

I have friends of the charismatic persuasion who insist that they fellowship fully with the Spirit. They feel an intense connection with God. They speak in a heavenly language (what we call tongues). They've seen powerful workings of the Spirit.

I want to be gentle here. But I don't believe them. I believe in their sincerity, but I don't believe they've experienced what they say they are experiencing. I don't say that often because I don't want to hurt their feelings, and besides, I could be wrong. But everything I've seen in my thirty years of ministry appears to be emotionally driven, and a lot of that is anxiety.

I still believe in God and Jesus. I'm still able to teach from the scripture. I'm willing to entertain the idea of a powerful mystical presence that can change the course of events. But I have not seen it.

"Maybe He is there but you just can't see him," some will argue.

Okay. But no one has searched for him more than I have. If He's that hard to experience, what good is He?

I don't talk easily about these things to others. Frankly, it would hurt some people I love, and it would make my life more complicated than I want. This blog allows me to say things because I am anonymous. There are only three people who know my identity and I trust them enough to tell them anything.

To them and those of you who have become my blog friends, I say, that this has been a bitter disappointment to me. I have felt inadequate, rejected, angry, and disillusioned in that order.

Bear in mind that I am not experiencing an emotional or even spiritual crisis. I have been this way for quite a few years and I have found some peace along the way.

I just wanted to say it to someone.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's Prize

The following does not lie within the context of my normal subject matter. But I just couldn't help myself, and besides, it's my blog.

I live in an area where people think Obama is going to destroy life as we know it. They call him the antichrist, compare him to a Nazi, and accuse him of being a racist. They also question his patriotism because once he didn't wear a little flag on his lapel. O, and according to some, he's not even a real citizen.

All of which is ridiculous. And since I'm a clergy guy, I'll go ahead and say it's wrong and immoral to say such outlandish and insulting things about the President. Criticize, okay. But not this dishonest alarmist crap.

The thing is, I have had to change my mind about Obama. I was skeptical of his ability to be President. But he has shown himself to be reasonable, wise, and often shrewd (although I think he wasted too much political capital on the bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago).

But I like the guy. I've seen enough to be encouraged. And he has my support. He had it even when I was skeptical of him.

But I have a problem with the committee that selected him for the Nobel Peace Prize based on what he might accomplish in the future. Awards are for what a person has already done. Not on what we hope he is going to do.

The Nobel Committee has done him a disservice and made themselves look foolish. They've made this prize a political statement rather than a reward for outstanding deeds. I've not thought much about them before, but now I've considered them enough to not trust them.

If I were Obama, I would find this embarrassing and perhaps a little alarming.

In my own miniscule role as a clergy guy within my culture, I have learned that when I go to a new church, the people who praise me too quickly are the ones I cannot trust. When I do not do what they want (and that always occurs), they become my biggest detractors. Dishonest, manipulative detractors.

Obama needs to look over the Nobel Committee carefully. He doesn't need that kind of "support." I predict they will be his most vocal critics before he is out of office. They'll also prove to be his pettiest and most dishonest critics.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Watching

Most of the time, I write these little articles for the church newsletter or the town newspaper. But I thought I'd share this one with you, since most of the time I only write about my frustrations in ministry.

This one is about being a father.

My second son learned to ride the bicycle this week. He didn’t get the hang of it when he was little like many kids. But when he was ready, he got the bike out and pressed on till he learned it. When I saw he was serious, I took him to the church parking lot and gave words of encouragementk while I watched.

I remember how it was with the first boy. I ran up and down the street pushing him, hoping I could help him discover that secret called balance. But he didn’t. Instead, one time when I wasn’t looking, much less pushing, he found it, and his world expanded immediately.

It was that way when he started walking, too. Just behind us when his mother and I were talking, he quietly pulled himself up, to take his first unaided steps.

Now my second boy did the bicycle thing much the same way, only this time, I was paying attention. Not pushing. Just watching.

As I write these words, he’s outside now, tooling up and down the road, his world suddenly bigger.

I’m still in their world, but I’m beginning to just watch more. O, I’ll intervene, instruct, even push and pull when needed. But I expect to do a lot more standing and applauding as time goes by.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Windows

I blew a gasket yesterday evening at one of the neighborhood kids. We--usually my wife--often have to redirect his behavior when he’s at our house: don’t throw toys on the roof—especially when they’re not your toys; quit tromping in the flowerbed; and it’s the end of the day so go home.

I think there are kids in the area who like to come to our house because it’s comfortable for them, and perhaps safer. No one yells at them.

And I didn’t yell yesterday either. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a substantially sized fellow. I have a fairly intense personality but I try to temper it with a softer voice.

But even though I kept my voice low, the neighborhood kid, who does not seem to be burdened with an overabundance of good sense, could see I was irate. He had been roaming in the front yard and started looking through our windows into the house.

Maybe this doesn’t bother you, but I have enough of people looking at me and commenting on my life and I don’t want some kid invading my space like that. I open the front door abruptly enough to get his attention and tell him, “Don’t look in the windows of houses. It’s considered impolite. Especially, don’t look in the windows of MY house.”

The kid said, “I didn’t know it was rude.”

I shrugged. “That’s why I was telling you.”

I’m a public person. I stand in front of people and open up my thoughts and feelings regularly. Sometimes in my sermons I confess a vulnerability, so I can get others to look at theirs. While most appreciate this, there’s always some that want to pass judgment.

There are others who monitor where I am constantly. They notice when I leave the house, how long I’m at the office, who comes to see me, and for how long. It’s their hobby.

When I get home, I close the doors and the drapes. I don’t want the public to see when and what I’m eating, what I watch on TV, and what I wear at home.

I’ll admit I’m just plain sensitive about it.

Just as soon as I write these words, I also remember the searing loneliness I feel most of the time. If I feel that isolated, shouldn’t I open the doors and windows and quit yelling at little kids who peer inside?

Being evaluated is not the same as having company. Friendship begins with acceptance and then with maybe, I don’t know, friendliness?