Thursday, October 28, 2010

Underwear and Lice

In all the years I’ve been a minister, this is the first time we’ve had the issue of head lice enter our sacred doors. We have to watch carefully to prevent our preschool kids from spreading it around. It’s not THAT big a deal. Aside from the “eeww” factor, a little common sense and caution, along with the medicated shampoo, should fix us up.

Speaking of firsts, the youth department has a strange fundraiser. They’re hanging underwear in people’s yards—and I’m talking super, industrial strength, 9X boxer shorts. For a contribution they’ll remove it and put it in someone else’s yard at the previous recipient’s request. They leave a sign that say’s “You’ve been briefed.”

I prefer to think of it as holy extortion.

The first week the old ladies were mad. The youth director came to me on Sunday morning in a panic. “Pastor, I need some help here.” She offered to call the whole thing off.

“Don’t do that,” I said, “Then all those people who worked on this silly thing will be upset.”

I went to the gaggle of ladies sitting in their appointed places for Sunday school. I shook their hands, beamed my big mug in each of their faces, and told them how pretty they looked. It made them giggle. Or maybe the word is titter. Since they were in a good mood at that moment, I didn’t mention the underwear hanging out on the lawn.

Later at worship, several funny things were said about it. Then I got up and said, “The youth leaders were worried that this might offend someone. But I reassured them. We all have a sense of humor about these things. DON’T WE?”

Everyone nodded.

It’s a gift I use sparingly: I can charm, amuse, and arm twist all at the same time, and make people feel glad they came.

Head lice and underwear. For this I went to seminary?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You're Damn Right It's a New Car!

I bought a new car last week. By “new” I mean it’s five years old. But it’s nice, a little more comfortable than the other one we have. The boys love it. My 12 year old found at least twenty-seven things about it that were “awesome.” The older one likes it too, although he’s too cool to say much; however, he’s pleased because he’ll get to drive the older one more often.

I haven’t shown it off because experience has taught me how jealous people in the church get when I have something nice. I am sick to death of hearing the catty little jokes about how much money the preacher is making. I will never listen to another speech about how other people have had it so rough and somehow the money I make now contributed to their hardship back in the depression.

While I’m on the subject, how is it that ministers are judged so harshly by their salaries? They don’t set them. They accept what’s offered, same as any other job.

I actually had a man tell me I shouldn’t have accepted a raise because I they already paid me so much money (trust me, it wasn’t so much). As a matter of fact, I have turned down several raises for the sake of the church’s financial welfare. And I’ve never, ever asked for one.

I heard the resentment from the very beginning when little old ladies resented the fifty dollars a week I was paid for youth ministry—they thought I should have done it for free.

So I’ll enjoy my new car quietly and let it dawn on them slowly that I have it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Banjo and Baby Jesus

In my last post, I carried on with great self pity about losing my music. It must have sounded like enough of a prayer to get a response.

A man called and said he was bringing something over for me to keep for a while—a banjo. He’d upgraded and this one was just gathering dust. I once told him how I used to play a few years back, but with a burst of foolish generosity, I loaned mine out to someone and I never saw it again.

So, in spite of my previous complaints, I’ve been enjoying myself, learning again the chords and fingering, delighting the nursing home residents who, let’s face it, are not a tough audience. I also played for the children’s class today—they’d never seen a banjo up close.

No matter what I may have last written, I can’t deny that the banjo is simply fun. How can a person not enjoy playing one?

And then something else happened tonight with the children. We started working on the Christmas musical and we sang a verse that got me all misty:

“Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace. Hail the Sun of Righteousness…”

Regardless of my crises in faith and my frustration with the church, I am a follower of Jesus. And I am moved by the scene of angels singing for a poor baby in a feedbox who is really a King.

I have questions and challenges I often want to hurl at the Almighty. But when I see the baby boy who was born to heal and teach and save, I am unhesitating and unwavering in my loyalty.

I would love to have been there. I would have been happy to fall to my knees with hands raised to sing with the angels and offer allegiance to this baby King. In my heart, I still do, which is why, in the midst of depression and grief, I keep doing what I do.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Losing the Music

I know it sounds weird, but I’m a musician who hates most music.

I have stacks of LPs and a working turntable but I’m tired of all of them. I have an even bigger stack of CDs that I never want to hear again. Sometimes, I’ll put one in the player and the music that I used to crave makes me angry instead.

Before I could talk, I loved music. My earliest longings had to do with wanting new music, either to listen to, or to play. I could sit for hours and soak in the music on my stereo. I used to love working on new music to perform. I sang in school choirs and put up with many a temperamental choir instructor because I wanted to be a part of the music.

I think the longing is still there, but the music doesn’t fill it anymore. 

Sometimes it will still reach me. If I hear a real singer who worked hard enough to discipline his body to do it right, I like it. If I hear a song with real feelings being expressed, I like that. And I still like a little of the older, melody rich music.

In fact, on rare occasions, a real piece of well performed music can me cry.

“Where have you been?” I want to ask. “I’ve missed you terribly.”

Losing the music happened about the same time I lost the sense of God’s presence.

There’s a glib story where the first person says, “Things have changed. I can’t find God anymore.” And the second person says cleverly, “Well, God hasn’t changed. It must be you.”

I freely admit that I’ve changed. I’m more educated and thoughtful. I’m kinder. In many ways I’m better at ministry than I’ve ever been. In view of my growth, I would have expected to see more of God, but instead it feels like less.

It’s not like I can go back and be what I once was. I can’t go back to liking the old music. I can’t go back to praying to the God of my childhood Sunday School.

I have to keep moving forward. But why does growing up make me so empty?