Multiple Multiples

We’ve just moved to a new city where I will assume a new pastorate in a few days. Until this transition, my wife and I worked 165-miles apart. We  will be living together full-time for the first time in four years. Unpacking and consolidating I’ve discovered that when you live in two homes, have a home office and a work office, AND keep the car well-stocked, you can end up with multiples. Multiple multiples might be more accurate.

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Weary of being without when needed, I kept lip balm in my car, with my running gear, in both homes, and in my desk.
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Can you really have too many paring knives? I have paring knives from both homes as well as my office desk.
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I’m a middle-aged runner. Of course, I had two ice packs (one clay, one gel) in each city. Sometimes, heat is more appropriate which meant two heating pads. I gave my multiple unopened bags of epsom salts to the Food Pantry before the move.
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Is there anything more annoying than toe nails that need clipping and you’re without an adequate tool? Tweezers are needed wherever you are when the stray hairs of middle-age crop up. Yes, that’s three toe nail clippers, three tweezers, and two nail clippers. Why three? Maybe for the trinity; we’re clergy after all.
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Notice? I did not take the church’s stapler. Nor did I take the church’s staple removers. (Though, there was the time when I bought multiple staplers for the church office within a few weeks. The bookkeeper was confused until I explained the children had gotten hold of the first new stapler. 
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In the small town where I lived and served a church, power outages were not rare. When you live in a frontier town, you don’t want to be without a flashlight. Of course, my wife needed one, too. Or more. Quite a few more.
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I’m not so much of a salt lover that I need shakers in my office or car. Still, do we really need two sets now? Yes, why yes we do. She prefers the glass ones and I like my Tupperware versions.
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Scissors are useful in the kitchen, in the office, for sewing, and for opening packages. I don’t know why we needed six, it’s not like we carried or used them in the car. Honest. Trivia: that top pair were my grandmother’s sewing scissors. No one is allowed to use them. They are sacred object in my home.
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Besides the two sets of three hymnals (Chalice, New Century, and Sing! Prayer & Praise) that I used for preparing worship, I needed incense in both locations. Incense can help lure the Holy Spirit out of hiding when I prepare sermons. It’s true.

We also had multiple toasters. We have multiple bags of dog food not to mention the hand lotion here, there, and everywhere. We even have an extra robe now because she kept an extra in my parsonage. None of this is to complain. It’s been fun counting the number of like items we’ve found we had. The joy of being together in one home outweighs any minor difficulties of merging households.

 

 

89 Going on 90

greatsDrip. Drip. Drip.
The tears come.
Sobs burst forth.

Dad is in the hospital.
Again. And I’m so far away.
Phones. Texts. Not the same.

He’ll be heading home.
A new diagnosis: worry with a name.
But. Again?!!?

Aging. Loving. Living.
Life is hard.
Life is connecting.

Clinging. Crying. Worrying.
Embedded, oozing fears of loss.
Fears of impermanence, reality.

Drip. Drip. Healing tears dry.
Be still. The divine is here.
Extravagant love is always.

 

Clergy Couple’s Lament

screenshot-2016-12-03-09-40-21IF…

IF…you assume that the Spirit needs me here and you there for whatever inexplicable reasons…

THEN..

THEN…it behooves us to find joy in the journey, in the service of the One who loves us and brought you and I together.

ALAS…

ALAS…I struggle with finding the joy when the sun begins to set and you are not beside me for the evening meal and sleeping.

STILL…

STILL…IF…THEN… joy is necessary and is actually present when I look for it.

SIGH…

SIGH…just SIGH.

Love you.

Norm

On this All Saints Day, I am remembering Norm Ellington. Norm changed the trajectory of my faith and spiritual journey. Below is an excerpt from a paper I wrote about him for a seminary class seven years ago.

In the summer of 1967 my family moved two thousand miles from the white, middle class neighborhood, school, and church in Salem I had known for four-years. I recall asking my parents as we approached our new home, “Why are there so many black people in St. Louis?”  I was about to have some of my first experiences with race during a turbulent time in this country in a city with deep racial rifts. I walked to a predominantly African American public school during the week and on Sundays attended a new Disciples of Christ church within walking distance of my family’s new home. It was at this church that I met Norm.

“Why are there so many black people in St. Louis?”

Norman Ellington was an African-American man to whom my younger brother and I gravitated before church and between Sunday School and worship.  Norm put up with our silly jokes, our brotherly rivalry, and our incessant questions and comments. Without becoming pedantic, Norm took advantage of teachable moments to mentor our understanding of Christianity in a broken world in which racial hostility and violence was never far from our doorstep. Living in an urban renewal, intentionally mixed-race, mixed-income rental community near some of the most dilapidated slums in St. Louis, I was faced at eight-years old with processing what was happening around me. Fortunately, I had Norm to help me do that processing.

I recall his patient explanations about what it meant to be black in late 1960s St. Louis and what it meant to be a Christian during those violent times. When I was being bullied daily by an African American classmate, being called “honky” and other epithets for whites, it was Norm who helped me perceive what was happening through a Christian lens. When my best friend’s African American father was shot and killed on the job by a mentally ill man, it was Norm who helped me to understand that Jay’s father had been doing God’s work striving to help poor blacks and whites find employment despite the risks to his personal safety which was created by society-wide racial tensions.

“I learned the importance of a Christian faith of action that does not shy away from the truth of racism and poverty.”

[Norm] reminded me that Jesus was never afraid to go where those who were in need lived and struggled. When my mother was the victim of harsh language and hateful words from the Black Panthers, I listened as Norm counseled her with love and compassion while helping her to understand the deep pain that was a part of the black experience in the late 1960s.  In my interactions with Norm as well as those I overheard him have with family and other church members, I learned the importance of a Christian faith of action that does not shy away from the truth of racism and poverty. I learned that as someone born with light skin, I benefit from systemic racism.

As our church heeded the call of Christ to go where the “least of these” live Norm also helped me to see the Holy Spirit manifest in our work. For example, he helped me to understand the power of Christian love when the suspiciousness turned to joy on the face of the African American children I played with prior to our church’s movie night on a vacant lot. Norm explained to me that when whites showed up in this particular neighborhood, even though I only lived a few blocks away, that the experience was rarely positive for the poor, African-Americans who lived in the crumbling buildings. He helped me understand the importance of blacks and whites getting to know one another.

“…when whites showed up in this particular neighborhood, even though I only lived a few blocks away, …the experience was rarely positive for the poor, African-Americans who lived in the crumbling buildings.”

Norm was never my Sunday School teacher, my pastor, or my youth leader. He was my friend who, using Jesus as our reference point, helped me to interpret both my positive and negative experiences in such a way that racism spared me its harshest sting—internalized hatred of the other.

 

 

It’s What I Do. 

When one of our beloved flock are nearing death, we live in dread of the next phone call or text. That’s the way it is for clergy.

When the call comes, our carefully planned day or day-off drops to the bottom of the priority list. The dreaded communiqué and our response disrupts schedules and family time. Yet, we don’t complain. This is the job. We respond in love without resentment. That’s how it is when you’re called by the divine. Though I don’t exactly find joy in this aspect of my work, I have a sense of satisfaction and peace in being with families.

I also feel a private sense of grief. Always.

My grief can be simple and straightforward: I feel sad for others. If it is someone with whom I’ve had a deep or longterm relationship my sadness can take awhile to process. Nonetheless, out of love I set my feelings aside to be God’s presence for the deceased’s family and friends. That’s the job. That’s the calling. It’s what I do.

Sometimes, however, the death triggers a personal emotion. That’s what happened recently. Both clergy, my wife and I minister 165-miles apart. We manage the distance well. I feel as called to my rural congregation as she does to the suburban hospital where she is chaplain. Still, I don’t like it.

Dealing with unwanted separation in my own marriage I am sensitive to the grief of departures and time apart. The death of a parishioner’s spouse is prone to trigger my own feelings. This can especially be true when an aspect of the couple reminds me of my own relationship.

***

When the text came recently, I was over a hundred miles away. When the text came recently, I didn’t question where and with whom I must be. This is the job. This is the calling. It is where I needed to be.

This time the triggered emotion, coupled as it was with a tragic death the week prior, and the too soon departure from my own wife, I found myself sobbing as I drove the freeway to be with the widow.

I thought about the grieving family. A family I love has been struggling for far too long. I sobbed and prayed for them. Without the drive, my emotions would have remained in check until the quiet of the evening or days later.

I didn’t just sob for the family, however. I sobbed for myself. My personal feelings had been triggered. This is the job. This is the calling. It is what I do in my alone time surrounding a death.

My own overly sensitive feelings about detaching from my wife cascaded down my face. I thought about the choices we make for our jobs, our God. I thought about quitting outright and becoming a househusband. I fantasized about living with my beloved full-time. This is what I do when we must part. These were familiar thoughts, not enough to cause sobbing.

And, so, I prayed for my own relationship. I did not pray for our circumstance to change. I know that, at least for now, this is the job. This is our calling.

I thought about our deaths with eyes open. One day, one of us will die and leave the other. The widow with whom I would soon sit, was not an aberration. This is the nature of life, death will come.

I thought about the depth of aloneness one of us will one day feel. I prayed that when the time comes, my wife should die first. I hate the constant separations of our present, dread going on alone after her death, but I do not want my beloved to have to feel that pain. I will gladly take it upon myself, I told the loving spirit that connects all of creation.

This is the marriage. This is a calling. This is love.

I Beeped, He Flipped

I Beeped, He Flipped

From his perspective, I came from out of nowhere. He saw an opening and pulled his Jeep out of the center turn lane. That’s when he heard a beep, looking back to see the bright green car.

I turned into the drive lane from the side street. Assuming the Jeep in the turn lane would stay put, I accelerated. That’s when it  pulled out, nearly taking the front end off my car.

I beeped; he flipped.

He showed me his middle finger from inside his car. Going the same way,  I stopped behind him at the light. Apparently, not sure I’d seen his middle finger, he held it out his window.

I suppose I should have reacted so he knew I’d seen his finger. He pointed at me using the outside mirror and showed me his middle finger again. I didn’t react.

Red-faced, he energetically pointed at me and showed me his middle finger yet again. I didn’t react. He pointed and showed it to me a fifth and sixth time. Finally I understood. He needed some closure. I gave him what I hoped would be a submissive shrug.

That seemed to satisfy him.

***

Like the driver of the Jeep, we all want to be seen and heard. I could have felt threatened. (A small part of me did.) However, I chose to remain calm, mustering empathy. Like my companion driver, stressors can negatively impact my driving or my relationship with others.

I am thankful for the empathy that helped me perceive what the angry driver needed. In calmness and empathy, I saw the divinity within a sojourning human being.

___

Luke 6:27-31

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance
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Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I avoid her. I fear running into her at the post office or the grocery. She has a way of taking a chunk out of my spirit.

Just when you wanna hate people, though, they go and do something nice. Just when I’m ready to have nothing to do with someone, I become aware of their struggles and like the Grinch my heart grows three sizes.

In my small town there is a woman who feels I’m entitled to her opinion of my driving. In addition to my atrocious driving habits, I apparently pastor a not-Christian church. I need to know that, too. Apparently.

Emotionally it is easy to become annoyed with this woman. I don’t have any first hand understanding of her struggles. Nor has my personal driving instructor done something nice for me. However, I know she volunteers to do tedious work in our community.

People are complicated and messy. I’m sure she has challenges of which I’m unaware. Her behavior tells me that she does. Our “stuff” often spills over onto innocent people. As a local pastor, who won’t strike back,  I’m an easy target.

My faith tells me that we all hold the sacred within us. I can’t just write her off if I believe what I claim.When I remember this, I find my heart growing and softening. I’m more tolerant. I find ways to interact with her in love rather than mere tolerance.

I even find myself seeing the good within her. Love really is greater than fear and annoyance.

 

 

Manhood

Manhood

I get that.

The whole world tells us we’re supposed to be strong,
but I’m not.

I’m just tired.
I’m hurting and fragile.

We’re supposed to be gruff and unfeeling.
Provide and protect, we’re told.

But I can’t.
And you don’t need or want that.
Not really.

I can’t help it. I feel deeply.
I think it all in my heart.

They, the others, say I should be,
but I’m not.

Sometimes it bothers me,
but sometimes it doesn’t.

I know I don’t need to fit a mold,
but I feel the world trying to squish me into it sometimes.

Or is that my loneliness doing the pushing?

They say I should but I can’t.
I sometimes try anyway,
because the cravings and yearnings are powerful.

I am me. I choose my am over their shoulds.
(Well, most of the time.)

I hope you get that.