Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shucking Corn...

Yeah, boring title.  I know...but...

Everyone in my circle has been telling me to slow down...my family...my friends...my church...even my counselor... But I love working.  I love my job.  I don't mind the hours or the stress.  It does get to me every now and then, just like everyone else who's trying to make it through the day, but all in all, it's a great gig. 

I realized over the last few months, though, that many of the things I used to enjoy just don't have much attraction for me now.  I don't know if I'm getting older...or I'm tired...or just have changing tastes, or what...but one thing I still enjoy tremendously is my garden.  Oh, sure, there's been no shortage of "old man" comments since I started gardening seriously last year, but I don't mind.  I even have a straw hat. 

Something hit me today, though.  (Oh great, here he goes again.  Cue fuzzy background) 

I realized today that I even rush through my gardening.  During planting, it was a dead run to get the ground tilled, manure worked in, rows laid out, strings pulled (The rows HAVE to be straight, duh!)  and the seeds or plants in the ground.  I don't know why I rushed through it.  I really enjoy it.  It's not even really work to me.  But it was "Get this done and get gone." all the way through the season. 

The cool weather garden is done now.  The first planting of sweet corn and pole beans are gone.  As soon as they were finished, I ran into the corn patch, clippers flying, cutting down corn stalks and bean vines, and straightening up squash vines so that I could till again and plant a late crop of horticulture beans. (Hurry up!) 

Today, I picked corn from my other patch.  Here's the deal...with all of the corn I've picked before today, I would carry my corn out to the compost pile and stand there while I shucked it (quickly) so I could get it in the house and start cutting it off of the cob.  As I walked out to the compost pile today, images of my childhood hit me like a brick to the face.

It's a gorgeous August day.  The sun is shining and a little breeze is blowing.  As I walked across the yard, the clock turned back thirty years or so and I was transported in my mind to the shade of the pine trees behind my grandparents' house, as Granddaddy backed the pickup truck in loaded down with corn.    

Then we'd all pull up a chair, or grab a seat on the picnic table, and it would begin.  Somebody would shuck the corn, someone else would silk it, someone else would trim it, then it would be cut off, prepared, and divided up.  I can picture it just as clearly as if I were there right now...and it just hit me...that was over thirty years ago...maybe even thirty five years ago. 

Thirty years...  That's a long time.  Where the hell has it gone?  Oh, I'm not moping or moaning, or anything like that.  I've had a good run so far.  I mean, I'm 42 and have no real complaints.  But really...that was a lifetime ago.  Thirty years...

You know, everyday we are given a chance to learn something about ourselves if we just pay attention.  I've learned today that at 42, I've gotten to a point where I rush through the few things I really enjoy doing because life has just gotten so busy...AND...I know I'm not alone.  That's not cool.

I know I can buy corn a whole lot cheaper than I can grow it and put it up myself.  It's simple economics.  But it's not about economics.  It's about connecting the boy I was with the man I am.  It's about relearning that not everything has to be done so damned fast.  It's about remembering that there was a time in my life when sitting under the shade, shucking corn with the family, was the highlight of the day.     

So, do you know what I did?  I grabbed a lawn chair, packed it over to the compost pile...and sat down to shuck corn.  It sounds stupid, I know, and you're probably thinking "It's time for the hugging jacket." That's ok. 

I'm trying not to tear up right now.  Why?  Well, it might not make sense to anyone else, but as I looked down at the hands shucking the corn, they weren't mine...they were my granddaddy's...and it's as if he were saying, "Son, what are you running so hard for?  Slow down.  Just shuck some corn for a while." 


It wasn't until after I published this to my facebook page that I remembered a question Granddaddy used to ask me all of the time.  Every time I got ready to leave their house, without fail, Granddaddy would say, "What's your rush, son?"  Every time.  He's been gone over 10 years now, but I think I finally have an answer: "Well, Granddaddy, I have no clue.  I think I can stay a little longer."



Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm Christian Unless...

I made the mistake of praying once... No, you read that right.  It's not a typo.  I made the mistake of praying once, and it was Pete's fault.  Pete was one of my professors in seminary and changed my life.  He, and a few others, showed me a different way.

See, I had a great gig going.  It was comfortable.  It was stable.  Very few problems, even fewer counseling sessions.  Plenty of money in the bank.  But I made the mistake of praying.

I don't remember the exact prayer, but that's not important.  I'm pretty sure it went something like this, though: "God, I know there has to be more.  Show me how I can make a difference.  Send me to change lives."  It seemed innocent enough, right?  So God began to answer that prayer by creating within me a haunting sense of restlessness. 

I loved my folks.  They loved me.  Most of the time we got along great, and I could have stayed for years...but God had answered my prayer by making me restless.  Did I mention that already?  So I used the system to make a change. 

Shattered delusion.  Yeah, that's what I'd call it.  I was living a delusion.  I had been raised in a community that was pretty stable and I cannot think of a better place to grow up, but...

...but I was never really exposed to anything other than white, middle class, straight, and for the most part, law abiding.  So I thought that was how everyone lived, until I met Pete.  Pete took me to the slums of Mexico (literally) and exposed me to a side of life I had never experienced.  He then introduced me to lives lived on the streets of Memphis.  Talk about an experience.  Actually I did here:


Every stone in the walls of my ivory palace was blown all to damned pieces...and I loved it.

Now, to the reason this surfaced this morning.  I read a Dan Pearce blog this morning.  I'm not sure when he wrote it, but I can bet he took some heat for it, and I figure I probably will too.  But hey, I wrote yesterday about breaking rules, so why not?

The title of his blog was "I'm Christian...unless you're gay."

Yeah, that. 
Oh no he didn't! 
Oh yes he did!
Oddly enough, his blog really isn't about homosexuality.  Well, ok, yes it is, but not only about that.  It's long, but it's a good read, and should actually be converted to pamphlet form and put on every information table in every building that keeps the church dry while they meet.  Whether you agree with him or not, you (we) should read this and let it soak in for a while. 

Read it here...


His blog is a call to love...period.  But before we can love...period...we have to be able to judge less.  It's tough.  Believe me. 

I'm at a new place now.  Actually in my third year of ministry in a new place.  God has answered that prayer from a few years ago...BIG.

Almost every day I get the opportunity to decide if I'm going to judge...or love.  Almost every day of the week I have someone come through my door whose life is a complete damned mess...they're gay and no one understands them...they're back on the bottle and need some help...they're popping pills again and damn near died this time...they're at the end of their rope and don't know where else to go... and I have to decide, "Am I going to be Christian...unless..."?  Or, am I going to love them? 

Like I mentioned yesterday, sometimes love brings with it some pretty tough words, but tough words can be said out of love.  I've had to do that, but I'm learning that the person in front of me is more than the problem that brought them to me.  Whether it's alcohol, drugs, soliciting prostitution, wild living, going back to jail, or just the desire to get the hell out of Dodge and run away...they are people, created in the image of the living God, and I was commanded to love them.

It has meant a completely different way of thinking for me.  I have discovered a lot of shades of grey.  I have learned that there are very few absolutes.  I have discovered that I don't have to support the lifestyle and that I really can separate the person from the problem.  Mostly I have learned that your "right or wrong" and your idea of truth may not be someone else's...even if "the bible says..."  Because...unless I've read it wrong, Jesus said two things really matter...love God...love those God loves.  That's it. 

So...I made the mistake of praying once...and I am so glad I did. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Call Me Patch...

Ok, I don't know what's behind the blogging this week, but I've kind of missed it.  Who knows how long it will last.

I'm not a movie buff...not at all... Two hours is just entirely too much time to commit to something, and as a result, I very rarely sit down to watch a movie.  I have a 30 minute sitcom or 15 minute episode of SpongeBob kind of attention span...and that's about it.

Yesterday I watched "Patch Adams".  I haven't been able to get this one out of my head.  It came out nearly 15 years ago, but if you haven't seen it, don't worry, I won't spoil it. 

It was almost Jerry MaGuire'ish in that instead of "having me at hello," this movie had me from the very beginning, and I don't usually do that.  Why?  Because I can relate to Patch.  Having struggled myself with depression, then finally figuring out what I was made for, then realizing that I didn't fit the expected mold, and finally with the obstacles he faced as he came into his own.  Still not spoiling anything...who didn't see that coming?

Now...the reason it hit me so hard...

I love my job...can't even imagine doing anything else anymore (Except for the occasional bad day when I walk around saying to myself, "Where did I hang that tool belt?")  But what I have seen is almost a shift, from the focus being on loving the people and proclaiming the Word...to a focus on proclaiming the Word but "Don't do anything to get you slapped with a harassment suit."  Professional distance, we call it.  I get it.  I respect it.  I watch myself so closely because I know I'm being watched just as closely.  It's more than just a fishbowl kind of life, it's the reality of a changing world...but it's not going to change lives. 

I don't know that it's part of the decline of the church, but it could be.  When a patient becomes nothing more than their dis-ease, or a parishioner becomes just a number on the board after worship, we have a problem.  Folks are not stupid.  They know when they really matter to someone, or when they're just there to be counted.  Patch wanted to be the kind of doctor that made his patients know they mattered.  I want to be that kind of pastor. 

So...I have come up with three guidelines that, to a degree, have already shaped my ministry, but that I want to be more intentional about after having watched this movie.  They're not the same three I was given by a well meaning colleague when I entered the ministry: "Love the people...Don't piss off the UMW...Get the folks out at 11:55...and they will love you forever" (Direct quote, by the way)        

My three are this:
                 Love the People...
                        Be passionate about what you do...
                                 Break a few rules...

I've already been labeled a rebel in the Conference.  I'm really not...just different.  I've already broken some rules...but not just to break rules...they needed to be broken.  I don't want my ministry to just be my profession.  I want to change lives.  I believe Jesus once said, "It's not the well who need a doctor..."  Folks come to us, many times, and their lives are a mess...maybe even at their own hands...what they don't need are institutional rules and professional distance.  They need compassion.  Sometimes they need a kick in the pants, but we can do that and still let them know they are loved. 

I'll still leave my office door open when I'm counseling.  I'll still follow all of our safe sanctuaries protocol.  But if I'm going to be effective in my ministry, the folks coming through my door have to know that I love them and that they matter.  If a few rules get broken in the process, that might not be such a bad thing. 

BTW...the picture above is the real Patch Adams.   



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Maybe I'm the Crazy One...

He showed up in our parking lot early yesterday morning.  One of my church folk had gotten to know him the last time he was in the area and called me to ask if it was ok for him to stop by the church so she could feed him breakfast.  (I love this place!)  I told her it would be fine. 

He came in and sat down while I started a pot of coffee.  After the cups were poured, I sat down with him and we started talking. 

"Where are you headed?"
"That way." Then he pointed to the east. 
"Anyplace in particular?" I asked.
"Nope.  Just that way.  I've never been that way before."

He was very articulate in his speech, but wore the highway on his face and clothes.  Everything he owned was tied to his bicycle in plastic bags. 

"Do you believe seers still walk among us?" he said.
"What?  Seers?  You mean, prophets?"
"No.  Not prophets.  There's no need of prophets since the New Testament.  Seers.  People who can
     see the other side.
"Well, I've never really thought about it. (To myself: 'This guy...wow.')

The conversation continued while we drank coffee and he ate breakfast.  He had traveled nearly all the way across the country, riding or pushing this bicycle overladen with stuff.  Most people, at seeing him for the first time would probably think, "This guy is crazy."  I confess, that thought might have crossed my mind a time or two over a few cups of coffee.  No doubt, a life on the road will leave one with a fair amount of stories that most would consider way out there, yet as I listened, I couldn't help but think, 'Who knows, they may be true." 

The longer I talked to him, the more I thought, "You know, maybe I'm the crazy one and this guy actually knows how to live." 

Of the ones of us sitting at the table yesterday (there were 4 altogether) my guess is that he is the only one not on blood pressure meds, or some type of anxiety pill.  I'm going to say that he can probably adapt on the fly better than any of us there, and make do without most of what we call necessities.  I'll bet he also didn't work 60 hours last week and still not get done everything he needed to get done. And above that, I would wager that he really didn't care about what he didn't get done. Who's crazy now?

Now, of course, I couldn't do what he was doing.  I couldn't drop all of my responsibilities, grab a bike and a few Wal-mart sacks, and hit the road, but I wonder...  I wonder what it would look like if I worried less and played more.  I wonder what it would look like if I did more of what I wanted and less of what I felt I had to.  I wonder what it would look like if I was able to adapt on the fly, and change direction at a moment's notice.  I wonder what it would look like to finally see that the way most of us try to live our lives leaves others thinking, "Wow, they're just crazy."

Alas, I have forgotten how.  I think that's why that one hour conversation yesterday hit me as hard as it did.  I have forgotten how to play more, and worry less.  I have forgotten how to do what I want to do without thinking about all of the things I have to do.  What scares me the most is that I've become okay with it. 

So, my plastic bag toting, bicycle pushing, eastward bound new friend, God speed.  Thank you for stopping by our place yesterday.  I'm not sure what I'll do with the lessons you taught me, but I won't forget them very soon. 

The last time I saw him, he had stopped to talk to some horses on the side of the road...and I'm not sure they weren't talking back. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What I Learned From a Baker About Being a Pastor...

Associate's Degree...
Bachelor's of Science in Biology...
Minor in Chemistry...
Master's of Divinity...

I thought I had been fairly well trained.  Hours and hours I spent sitting in class, listening to one PhD after another as I was taught how to exegete a text, how to discover the world behind or in front of a text, how to not tick off this group or that group...then I donned the cap, gown, and master's hood...walked the aisle...shook hands with the President of the seminary...received my degree...and walked out into the world. 

Then I went before the Board of Ordained Ministry so they could be sure I knew how to use the vast amounts of knowledge that had been lodged somewhere in my brain during 87 hours of graduate level work.  After a little tweaking, and a couple more years, I knelt down before the bishop as he laid his hands on my head and spoke those words I had been waiting to hear for twelve years, "Jamie, take authority as an elder in the Church, to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments."  Then my friend and mentor placed that sacred red stole around my shoulders and it was done.  I was ready to go. 

In two months I will reach my 14th anniversary as a pastor.  I've had all of the education required.  I've jumped through all of the hoops.  I've kept up with my continuing education requirements...but...

...but last night I got a lesson I won't soon forget.

My girls had been watching Cake Boss while I was cooking supper.  After supper, I sat down on the couch, kicked my feet up, and watched with them.  The cake that Carlos' bakery had been commissioned to create was awesome...neon edible paint...monsters...glow in the dark goo pits...it was pretty sweet.  Then the scene changed to the front counter at Carlos' bakery, and a potential customer that had stepped up to the counter and asked Buddy if he could bake her a cake...by the next day. 

Now, if you've ever watched Cake Boss, you'll know there is a prescribed process to get Buddy to bake you a cake.  First stop is the front counter, then a consultation is set up, then a tasting, then the design process, then the actual baking and icing, and finally the delivery.  That's the way it goes.  That's the way it ALWAYS goes...except for last night. 

This woman asked Buddy to bake a cake...by the next day...Buddy explained that was not how it usually worked, and when the woman saw that Buddy was beginning to crawdad a little she asked this, "Well, if you don't think you can do it, is there another bakery in the neighborhood that could?"  All of the color left Buddy's face and he was speechless. 

Now, I am the last to support a consumer driven ministry portfolio, but what Buddy did next taught me something I don't think I got in seminary, or through continuing ed...the customer comes first.  Whether we want to admit it or not, the truth is there really isn't much difference between the way Carlos' bakery treats a potential customer, and the way the church should treat a potential member.  I say "should" because we don't always. 

A potential customer, or a potential member, wants to know that they matter.  Buddy could have stuck to his guns, following a well established protocol, and watched as she walked out the door to his competitor, but he didn't.  You could almost watch the gears turning in his head...he went to one of his staff bakers and asked if they had any sponge cake ready to go...then he told the customer that they could bake her cake, and that it wasn't going to be ready the next day because he was going to do it right now.  Then the customer and her kids, stepped over to another part of the counter and watched as Buddy made their cake to order right in front of their eyes. 

THEN...and this is what slapped me in the face...Buddy took that opportunity, one that I, or we, might have seen as inappropriate, demanding, and distractive, and used it to create what might become a completely new way of baking cakes.  He even said, "We need to start offering this more, be intentional about it."  He was able to adapt on the fly, and because of the way he treated this customer, I can almost guarantee she'll be back. 

I'm not saying the Church should bend to pressure from the world, but let's be honest, we're pretty good at sometimes making folks feel like they are an intrusion into our work instead of the reason for our work.  It's happened to me more times than I care to mention...since last week. 

So, I learned how to exegete and discover the world behind the text in seminary, but I learned how to treat a potential member from a baker in Hoboken.  Lesson learned.