Monday, March 29, 2010

Wrestling with God

I've heard from yet another preacher who is getting out. For the sake of his family.

Since the early days recorded in scripture, people of God have often sacrificed their families to do their work, such as the priests Aaron, Eli, and Samuel. It is speculated that the apostle Paul lost his family when he became a Christian missionary (although there might have been other issues there).

I know of a half dozen other ministers who are leaving or have left because of concerns of family or for health reasons--both emotional and physical. I know one very intelligent person who has to leave because he just doesn't feel like he's good enough. But in fact, he is. In fact, all these people I'm thinking of are better than average at their jobs. They are gentle, creative, hardworking, and idealistic.

There are plenty of lousy ministers out there who ought to find some other jobs, but these losses are going to hurt the Church and we're not going to easily replace them. Plus, although I think they deserve to be happy, I suspect they're not going to be able to find peace outside of the ministry.

Many people create a scandal in their lives that make it impossible to stay or even re-enter the ministry. Are they wolves in sheep's clothing or are they wounded healers that just couldn't see straight enough in the end to say, "I want out."?

But these recent departures are not leaving a wake of injured souls. They are the injured souls. They're trying to find healing for themselves and the people they love the most after having their most of their vitality sapped.

Why have I remained in the ministry? I've tried to leave but never for very long. I have been ambivalent about the ministry ever since I entered as a young man. I wanted to be a good pastor, but at the same time, I've always wished I could do something else.

I can relate to Jacob, who spent an entire night wrestling with an angel of God, refusing to quit until God blessed him. He came from the fight exhausted and crippled but he got his blessing, I guess. And his name was changed to Israel, which means contender with God. Oh, how I relate!

Why must it be so hard? Why, as we mature, does God seem to try to disappear, even as we wrestle to hold onto him? And why does his church sap and break the very best of his servants?

The sun has not yet appeared for this day but when it does, the wrestling will not cease like it did for Jacob. The wrestling and the night continues.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I am reminded of one of my favorite parishioners about whom I've written before. He's an outrageous storyteller who has yet to set foot in my church.

It seems he cut several fingers off in some kind of freak accident a few years back. The other day, he showed me his new prosthetic. It was a kind of glove with fingers built in that would actually give him more use of his hand.

"Does it really work?" I asked.

"I pinched a woman's bottom with it the other day," he said with a wink.

"I'd want to use my real hand for that." I said. It just kind of slipped out before my inner holy editor could intervene.

See, this is why I have this blog. Some of my most entertaining conversations never make it to the pulpit. But I just have to share it with someone.

Anyway, Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nursing Homes

Please don't send me to a nursing home. Just let me wander out into the winter wilderness to experience its final embrace.

Either that or I want to be shot by a jealous man because I got his twenty-one year old girlfriend pregnant.

My visits to the nursing home are always a blend of sadness, admiration, and hilarity.

I especially like the people who tell me that they'll be leaving soon to go home, or to get their own apartment. It may not really be possible, but I never refute them. They live longer than you'd expect, I think because they give themselves a dream to look forward to.

There are some that never speak and some that never quit shouting at the top of their lungs.

Many are constantly harassed by the indignity of physical problems that they can't keep private.

There are always some who are sexually active with each other. Whatever age they are, the men like to see what they can get away with, and the nurses get a lot more human contact than they really want. Functional men of that age are very popular with the women residents.

I find joy in the fact that in the face of impending death, there's sex, romance, inappropriate behavior, jealousy, and even new marriages that occur in the nursing home.

I often take a worship service to them and I always have lots of singing. Some ministers wait long moments so the people can find the song in the hymnals—but they often can't see the print anyway. I pick the songs they grew up singing and stick with the familiar verses.

Even those who no longer talk or think straight will often still be able to sing.

At my age, I tend to find my worth and identity in my achievements and accomplishments. This is my time to produce. But the elderly people in the nursing homes cannot be what they once were. We have to look harder to see their value.

Often someone will grab my hand and speak urgently of what they used to do. "I was a policeman for 35 years." "I owned a ranch." "I have five children." They want me to know that they were once somebody significant.

When I walk into a stuffy smelly room to visit an old man in his bed and I see WWII medals on the wall behind him, I realize that older folks have nothing more to prove. They are heroes who refuse to go away.

Could I ask you a favor? If you're like me, you don't like going to the nursing home. Please go anyway. You will make someone's day just by entering the building. You could find a blessing, too, if you look deeply enough to really see the people.

Is it too difficult for you? Consider living there and hoping someone will come see you.