Thursday, June 24, 2010

Firearms and Panic Attacks

The pistol was on the coffee table in front of him.

“Hey, that’s nice,” I said. “Can I look at it for a minute?”

He nodded without sitting up from the sofa. I could see he’d been drinking.

I held it and admired it. It really was a nice firearm. 9mm Glock, small, designed for concealed carry. I slipped it in my pocket.

“So what’s going on?” I asked.

And he told me his problems, which were many and made him to wish he were dead. However, he also had many things to live for, which we also talked about.

“Can I borrow this a while? I’ll get it back to you when you’re feeling better.”

I was pretty sure he had other weapons, but he was sleepy and I figured he wouldn’t have the energy to pull himself up and go to the next room. It took a little negotiating, but I finally got a no-harm agreement from him.

This happened just the other day. And of course, his story isn’t over yet. He still has some more healing.

It’s not the first time I’ve quietly taken someone’s firearm. Several years ago a woman got her husband’s shotgun and threatened to harm herself. She punctuated her intentions by firing it into the ground. It was then that I drove up on the scene. I got her to talking and while she was screaming at her husband, I quietly picked up the weapon where she had laid it, and I put it in my trunk. Then we went inside to talk.

Another time, I rode my motorcycle in the middle of the night to a man’s ranch to talk him out of suicide. He didn’t have a gun—he was going to use a big, wicked looking knife. He was calmer when I got there than when I’d talked to him on the phone, and he was touched that I went to some trouble to come see him.

In truth, they were not terribly dangerous situations. These people needed someone to care and listen. Their tension eased the more they talked.

One time, things really did get dangerous when a man in a drunken rage emptied his gun into the house of his relative who was hosting the Bible study I was teaching at the time. I went to visit him later in the jail, and he was sorry for what he did. I got him to come to church when he got out.

However another time, I escorted a man out of our church. I heard he was harassing some of the women. I warned him once and when he continued, I told him he’d worn out his welcome. I listened contentedly to the curses spewing from his mouth as we walked down the long hall to the door he would never come through again. 

He returned with a gun and waited for me to come outside. I wonder if he thought I’d swagger out the front door to talk to him like they did in old cowboy shows:

“I thought I told you not to show yer ugly face around here again, ya lowdown, lily livered, no-good varmint!”

Instead I went to call the cops. But a couple of fellows who were heavy into martial arts told me they’d speak to him for me. They were able to help him leave the premises quietly. And he never came back.

I am not frightened during these occasions. To tell the truth, I’m usually exhilarated. They help me feel validated in my work.

What puzzles me is that I often have panic attacks when there’s nothing to be frightened of. When I was a younger man, thunderstorms would set me off. Nowadays, it’s hard to travel alone because I’m scared I’m going to die, or that my family will die if I’m not there to protect them. And I have the occasional nightmare of things I can’t make myself write about here.

Here is the crazy thing. I used to love the adrenalin laced moments of risk. They were the only times I felt… normal. Maybe the word is “high.”

I don’t seek those moments out like I used to. I’m more careful for the sake of my wife and children.

There’s no point I’m trying to make. I’m not saying that the ministry made me like this. Nor am I saying you HAVE to be crazy to be a minister. But it helps.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wedding Receptions and Rehearsal Dinners

I don’t like wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners although I’m always invited. It borders on rude if I don’t come, but I usually find a way out anyway.

I feel like the hired hand who is invited up to the big house to eat at a table by himself while the family and friends share laugher, stories, and affection with each other.


I know it’s not really like that.


I’m more like the hired official who eats at a table by himself while the family and friends share laughter, stories, and affection with each other.


“Your family is invited, too,” they always say.

But my children would rather take a beating than be on display in a room full of people they don’t know. “Don’t worry,” I assure. “They don’t see you anyway.”


I usually decline the rehearsal dinner by saying I’m expected elsewhere. I am. I expect myself to be home with my family eating a baloney sandwich rather the brisket, ham, or pizza with strangers who don’t have anything to say to me.


At the reception, I’ll take a piece of cake which I leave on the table because I don’t like wedding cake. After I’ve been there long enough to be seen but not spoken to, I’ll slide over to the groom, ask him for the license, fill it out, take my thank you card, and slip out. Sometimes he merely slips a few bills in my pocket and says “thanks Preacher, you did good.”

 I usually refrain from wringing his hand with gratitude before I go home.


It doesn’t always feel so bad.

There was one reception where I felt at home. It happened to be the fanciest wedding I ever did. But the family were truly gracious hosts who worked to make everyone including me feel comfortable.


When the moment came for the dad to take his beautiful daughter in his arms to dance, I thought about how much I liked them. Then the music changed from formal to whimsical. Accordion music filled the air to the melody of The Chicken Dance as the father and daughter did the funny moves. I could see this lovely woman as a little girl doing the dance with her dad in their living room.

And I started loving them.

It was one of the only times I ever stayed to the end of the evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Looks Good to Me

The following either describes me or the people I encounter. You can decide which.

I was in the grocery store with my friend who sees all and knows all. He watched me as I greeted the numerous people we encountered from my church.


“Every one of those people looked relieved the moment they saw you,” he pointed out.


I’ve considered that. I had known those people long enough to understand their quiet desperations. If they saw me as a helper, then maybe I was more successful in that community than I had thought.


However, that’s not always how people react when they see me coming.

Once, in the mall, a woman did an about face when she saw me coming.

“Wonder what she’s feeling guilty about,” my father, a longtime preacher, murmured as we watched her dart into a women’s clothing store.

They do feel guilty sometimes. Once, when I smiled a greeting to someone in a store, the first thing she did was explain why she’d missed church: “I’ve been outta town!”

Some latch onto me to tell me of the latest “emergency.” “Preacher, WHAT are we going to do with all those crying babies during worship.” Those are the ones I’d like to walk away from.


I make some people cry just by walking into the room.

Really.

Usually it happens when they need to talk to me about a specific ordeal. I don’t feel bad. They’re showing they trust me by letting down their guard.

Then I’ve seen others stop their furtive conversations the moment they see me. Usually, this occurs at church gatherings. They change expressions and offer a hearty but phony, “hello there, preacher!” (I know what you’re thinking and I’m not paranoid).

When I’m new to a community, the most common look I get is one of polite caution—they want to see what kind of guy I am before they show too much. Fair enough.

I think the thing I hate the worst is when I walk into a room and no one even looks up to see me. It’s worse than the exasperated expression that says, “Oh no, not you again.”

My favorite greeting is when a person’s face lights up because he is glad to see not his preacher or accuser, but his friend. It’s usually accompanied with a hug.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping the Needy?

A guy walks into the office.

I need help, says he. Tells me that he’s a war veteran and was shot in the line of duty—did I want to see the bullet hole? (No).

Or he was fired from his job. And has cancer. Did I want to see the scar where they did the surgery? (No).

Or how about this: His mom died. Needs to get to a destination 12,754 miles away. His car broke down and he had to spend all his money repairing it—which is why his car works now.

Is there any way I could help him out? Besides he’s got a wife and kid.

No, I say.

Could you put us up for the night at the hotel? One with a TV and a pool?

No.

Could you put gas in our tank?

No.

Could you buy us some groceries?

No.

Sometimes they send their wives in to ask while they stay in the car with the engine running.

There was a time when I helped anyone I encountered. If the church was out of funds, they could have what was in my wallet. And that’s still true if I think someone needs help.

There are the truly homeless ones who wander through, hitching rides as they go, willing to do a little work for a few bucks. I’ll help them.

I also encounter ones who have mental disorders but have lost their government aid, and I’ll help them, too, which includes getting them to other resources.

I like helping people who are trying to work, trying to hang onto their homes and feed their kids. Most churches are not equipped to take over the monthly expenses of families, but we can give some temporary help if they’re short for the month.


I’ll even help those I think are probably lying if they look hungry or desperate.

But there is a culture out there consisting of people who travel from town to town living off the grace of small churches. They tell their canned story—it’s amazing how similar they are—designed to gain sympathy. They take as much as they can get, then go down the road to bilk the next community of conscientious people.

They’re thieves.

I have done this for so long. I recognize them the second they come in the door and they make me tired, as well as angry, as I listen yet again to their patter.

It still bothers me to send them away. But I won’t give them what others truly need.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interesting Discussion

Daniel at Camels with Humps, and I have engaged in respectful dialogue on occasion. He's also been nice enough to refer to this blog before. I thought I'd return the favor by mentioning the discussion he hosts concerning a Mosque at Ground Zero, where he includes statements from all sides on this issue. I found it very interesting and encourage others to take a look.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Holy Narcissists

Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What you YOU think of me?

I’ve been thinking about the ministers who are able to build big churches regardless of the denomination. Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Pentecostal, or nondenominational, we’ll find standouts who are able to build huge bustling organizations.

What is it that makes them so successful?

Are they extra powerful speakers?

Not that I can see. I recently listened to one of the best and brightest in his denomination. His sermon sucked, to tell the truth. But the audience took it in like he was dishing out chocolate ice cream. In reality he was spinning stories that did not have a point. I’d rather have had the ice cream.

Are they super intelligent? I’ve known some of these guys and they are definitely not the sharpest crayons in the box. Some of them can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

The one thing they have in common is that they are narcissistic and they know how to draw crowds. They have a certain charm that appeals and assures people.

They are also egotistical, and emotionally needy. If you don’t fall under their spell or have anything they need, they’ll cut you out of their lives.

It’s no wonder so many have affairs, or are abusive in their more personal relationships. In fact, every relationship they have is abusive in that they demand unqualified allegiance rather than allowing for mutual respect.

And it’s no wonder all churches I’ve known are dysfunctional and fall apart when the leader falls apart.

Can any church actually be healthy? I am audacious enough to think that the world can be improved and I have thought that churches ought to be at the forefront of positive change.

But how much difference can we make when the strength of a church depends not so much on the ability of its leader but the charisma?

Finally, upon self examination, I admit that I have a certain amount of this charisma. Can’t do the job without it. So what does this make me? And am I helping or hurting the society I’d like to see healed?