Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hemmed In

My office, with its expensive furniture, feels like a jail cell. They put stain glass in the one window I had and now I can’t even see out. I have artwork on the wall, but it doesn’t help enough.

The church building is bigger and more lavish than any I’ve worked with in a while but the walls press in on me regularly even in the biggest room. I’m mad every time I walk the halls and feel the opulence of the facilities. And as expensive as it all is, as pretty as they all say it is, I think it looks ugly and ridiculous.

My house is small and I can’t find even a corner of privacy. The neighbors have their houses close to ours and we can hear the family next door fighting or partying right outside our bedroom window.

I walk the streets and every damn dog in the town barks at me when I go past. A huge number of the dogs in this hick town are pit bulls or rottweilers—I hope their chains hold and the fences are high enough.

The only time I have any privacy is early in the morning before anybody else is up.

It’s the weirdest feeling to want to be left alone and feel lonely at the same time.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Love the Children

I write a lot about the crises that people experience where I try to be of help. When I was a younger pastor, I reveled in the adrenalin rush. But I’m not that young pastor anymore. I still find meaning in the work, but the crises make me tired and sometimes it takes me several days before I get my strength back after a death or tragedy. Then there are some things I just don’t get over.

The children make this work easier. It has taken a couple of years in this church, but they’ve decided I’m okay. We got a bunch of them and they have that high octane energy we adults admire so much.

We have a few little boys who are wired for 220, as we say in these parts. Mischievous, good willed, funny, and sometimes brainless, their parents are often exhausted just getting them to church. But I rarely have problems with them. Usually, all I have to do is ask them to adjust their behavior, and they will. If I can’t get their attention, I’ll find an excuse to hug him and tell him how glad I am to see him, and then repeat my request, which they usually obey.

The children’s classes are my favorite ones to teach. I tell them the stories of the Bible and when I’m on a roll, they’re spellbound even without pictures. These days, I’m teaching the older kids some doctrinal material so they can decide how they will make their own spiritual commitments. They energize me with their questions and challenges. They’re much more interested in this stuff than their parents.

I love being the big smiling preacher who high fives the kids and holds four of them in my lap during story time.

When I was younger, baptizing the babies was difficult to pull off. There’s a point where I take the baby from the mom and I couldn’t figure out how to make that transfer gracefully. One time a mom got her hand caught somehow and couldn’t get free. Another time, I brushed my hand against the mother’s breast (it was an accident, I swear).*

And then the baby would cry.

But I’ve had more grace and better luck in recent years. Most of them like to feel my beard (sort of like petting the family dog). After the baptism, I walk up and down the middle aisle to let all the people get a close up and everyone waves and smiles and makes googly eyes at the tiny powerful life.

We have a preschool class during the school year. When I’m having a rough day, I’ll walk down the hall, poke my head in door of their classroom, listen to them each say hello to me, collect my hugs and go back to work. My teachers assure me they don’t mind my interrupting their class. They’re usually glad I came. So am I.

I wonder if the children realize how much they do for a tired pastor. I’m not sure I could do the job without them.

*When I apologized later to the woman whose breast I brushed, she just laughed. I realize now that mothers with small children have their clothes tugged and their bodies pawed constantly—They often get to where they just don’t care anymore.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Good Debating

Daniel Fincke wrote an article last year that I just came across where has some important things to say about how people can debate each other. It's not so much about winning someone over completely as it is about influencing another's thinking.

I think he's right. I used the post to mention my own gripe which is not nearly as important as the substance of his article.

Take a look at it at http://camelswithhammers.com/2009/10/15/is-debate-between-believers-and-non-believers-inevitably-futile/

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Waiting

I'm sitting in my very quiet office. Nothing's popping at the moment. The secretary is gone for the day. The phone is silent. There are no emergencies or crises. No one's in the hospital. No walk ins so far who want just a minute of my time to discuss how they recently remembered that they were sexually molested as a child.

And no one's complaining.

My sermon came easily this week and I'm ready early for Sunday. I could work ahead and get future lessons written up. I could clean and organize my office. I could go out and pay a visit to someone. I could take a rare moment to read, meditate, and pray.

Nah.

Maybe I could go home? If I did there'd be stuff there that I don't want to do either (mow the yard, clean the garage, etc). I'd sit there like I'm sitting here waiting for the next thing to happen that will launch me into action.

Maybe I'm tired. But I’m not sleepy. There's just nothing inside.

There'd be something if someone needed me. I'd be up and focused and useful. It's a helluva thing to hope for someone to have a crisis so I'd know what to do with myself.

I remember an occasion back when I was sick and exhausted.  I had an appointment to go to the prison to preach.  I wondered how I was going to form any coherent thoughts to share with the inmates. However, when I stood up to face them, the energy came to me and so did the words.

As soon as I was done the exhaustion came back.

The memory has an unreal quality to it. 

What do people do when they’re off? I think some go play but how do you do that? What's the point of it anyway?

Wait, someone just came in....

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm Only as Young as They Feel

Holy cow! I’ve become an old fart.


I remember just the other day, I was the youngest person in my church and people dismissed me because I was too young to know better. Now I’m too old to know better because I’m out of touch.


For about five whole minutes I was at just the right age to be relevant.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Bad Night

It was one of those late night vigils where the family was trying to find the resolve to turn off the machinery that kept the man breathing. His wife was hysterical, refusing to believe his brain was gone. She yelled at him to open his eyes, to get up from his bed, that he couldn’t leave her. But he was already gone, leaving behind a hissing ventilator and a screaming wife.

Her grown children tried to help, holding her tenderly, speaking softly, but she turned on them, and verbally attacked each of them. I found it hard to feel kind toward her. I wanted to tell her to pull it together because while her children were grown, they were still young and they needed her. But I resisted the impulse.

I was the pastor for one of those children, a daughter, but not the rest of the family. There wasn’t much I could do except keep my hand on her shoulder while she faced her ordeal.

This isn’t the only time when I witnessed a death where the family behaved poorly. I remember one time where family members stood over the body of a young woman as she gasped for her last breath, and they fought over what little property she had left.

It’s not usually this way. Generally people show the best versions of themselves at such a moment of crisis. They find their courage by gathering up their love and faith, and clinging to one another for comfort. The weeping is open, the hugging is spontaneous, and soon they speak of things they love about the person who has just gone.

Later, after the grief has set in for a while, people will sometimes hurt one another without realizing it’s the grief that makes them crazy. But they shine at the moment of crisis.

I’ve learned a little more about the grieving woman since that night. She had some ongoing ordeals that had already sapped her emotional reserves before her husband was taken. There was nothing extra to draw on for strength. So she was doing the best she could.

Most of us do.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What's Your Name?

“Hey there, preacher man. Long time, no see.”

I took his outstretched hand.

“Yeah,” I said, “how’re you doing these days?”

“Good. Good.

“Glad to hear it. See you later.

My wife and I walked on into the grocery store, while the big man walked on to his car.”

“Who was that?” my wife asked.

“No idea,” I murmured.

I thought about it all afternoon. Usually, if I think hard enough, I can remember. But not this time.

“You sure you didn’t know that guy at all?” I asked my wife.

“You’re the one who knows everybody,” she said.

It’s finally catching up to me. I remember as a young man that my memory was sharp and fast. I could remember most of the people I met. But after three decades, several towns, and thousands of people, they’re all sort of slosh together in my mind. They look alike, sound alike, and when they say their names, they usually have names similar to others I’ve known.

I remember a young man approached me once and said, “Hi Pastor. Remember me?”

No, I didn’t.

“You performed our wedding.”

“That’s right!” I said, but really I still had no clue

“Remember the thing with the unity candle?”

Then I remembered. All the decorations looked so nice, but they forgot to put the unity candle in place and none of us noticed until the middle of the ceremony. I pulled a small candle from the rail and used it instead.

A few years later, he approached me again, this time in another town.

“Hi pastor. You remember me?”

No, I didn’t.

“You did our wedding. Remember the unity candle?”

“Right, right. How are you…?”

In my defense, I’d been sick for nearly a year and there are large portions of my memory that are gone from that period, but I wish I hadn’t forgotten him twice.

But geez, I always remind people who I am, especially if it has been a while. I tell them my name, where we met, and how long ago it was before they ever ask. Then they can say of course they remember me.

They’re all important. Each person’s name is precious, including mine.

I just don’t always remember them. Including mine.