Staring it in the face

So it’s been a while since I put anything up…hmm… Not as long as I thought though. Maybe I am getting better at getting back to writing stuff more regularly?  Riiiiight.  I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

I came up against this reality not long ago.  But first I want to share something with you.  As I was praying in my room this morning, just sitting on my floor talkin’ to God, my eyes wandered around and across to an orange page on the floor not far from me.  After reading it the story on the page really hit my gut as being in direct answer to my prayer.  God truly can act in the most amazing ways in our lives…so, here it is —

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house.  Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

“Why?” asked the bearer.  “What are you ashamed of?”

“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table.  Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

This story really hit me today as I was thinking about how I felt my own efforts in my ministry, my work, my relationship were not up to where I’d like them to be.  But then there’s the moral too, just to add icing to the cake…

Each of us has our own unique flaws.  We’re all cracked pots.  But if we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to grace His Father’s table.  In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste.  Don’t be afraid of your flaws.  Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty.  Know that in our weakness [God can] find our strength.

I must admit I’ve been feeling a little like a fifth wheel some lately.  As I’ve mention previously I was recently ordained a minister and not only that but as of the first of this year, am also a co-pastor in my congregation.  I’m still busy at work and my son and I are starting a joint family therapy bi-weekly session to start working on how we relate to each other.  Things there are much much better than they have been, but at times it’s still a struggle.  And to top it all off, and this is really one of the most important things for me (and one of the most wonderful), I’m engaged to be married and the wedding is in about 4 months….  So… it’s not like I don’t have a bit on my plate I suppose.  But like the pot, I was feeling more and more aware of my flaws, rather than the beauty God had been (and continues to) using my flaws to create.  It was a good reminder and comes at a good time for me.

I am not perfect.  I screw up, make mistakes, don’t take advantage of the opportunities afforded me, ignore people I shouldn’t… but like the pot, if I listen to the water bearer, the bearer of the Word, acknowledge the flaws in my life and make room for His word… well, then… grace and beauty are only a part of what He can do with my life, and with yours.

Advertisements

Thoughts on a Thursday night…never did get the hang of Thursdays…

Hear O Israel the voice of one crying in the wilderness…

the one crying may not be the one you think…

I know it’s been a while since I threw anything up here, it’s been a little crazy.  Work hasn’t been busy, but there’s always stuff going on that needs attention, which is good (job security), but after a days work I don’t really want to come  home to another dozen or so chores and things that need to get done.  Life… well, life is at the moment.  I think it’s funny that almost all my close friends tell me that their social calendar becomes fuller and busier the longer they hang out with me.  I don’t mean to do it, it just sort of swirls around me I suppose.  So why write those phrases at the beginning of this post?  What’s the big topic for discussion up tonight?  Well… it’s complicated… in part because people are complicated and peoples with theology even more so.

I was moved to put some thoughts up on one of my social network sites today in part to the way some members of my world church had been expressing their feelings about a piece of what we believe to be divine counsel to us, and what it means for our church.  The comment follows:  all our talk of toleration and inclusion is for naught if, in the midst of our celebration, we marginalize those who disagree. Remember our years as strangers in the land and be sure to treat them the way we wish they had treated us.

I was wrong to refer to the passing of support for the document as a victory.  Victory implies a loser and in this case I don’t believe there was, there are simply those who are accepting of this counsel and those who are not – honest, well intentioned people on both sides.  So how do we stay in community?  How can we?  How can those of us for whom this day was a wonderful blessing keep our hearts open and sensitive to those of our brothers and sisters for whom this was a major step in the wrong direction?  How can those who disagree so strongly keep the love of God for all of us in their hearts and keep fellowship with us?

The simple answer is “I don’t know.”

This is not something I’m good at determining, I only know I feel it needs to happen.  My friends who are more conservative help keep me grounded in the roots and traditions of my forerunners, keep me on the path of what has come before and how that shapes where we are heading.  They help provide me with a firm foundation from which to reach for the stars.  My more liberal friends are the ones who are standing on that foundation with me, lifting me up and encouraging me to stand upon their shoulders to reach for the stars, the ones who open my eyes to the wonder of creation in unexpected areas.

I need both to flourish.

I can survive with one or the other… but that’s not the point… not when we have the opportunity to do more than simply survive.

I am not always comfortable with either end of the spectrum.  To my conservative friends I’m too liberal.  To my liberal friends I’m too conservative.  To me I just feel a bit mixed and saddened by the sense I have that those on the fringe want to pull things so tightly to them that it rips apart the middle.  Fortunately we have avoided that thus far… but I’m walking on emotional eggshells as what has happened before still follows me, and shadows my thoughts on these issues.  I was just a child when it was finally passed…the counsel allowing women to be in the priesthood.  I watched over 3/5’s of the people I knew and loved… from a place that should be safe above all others…walk out, turn their backs and harden their hearts.  It made my relationship with God and my church very difficult for many years.  I still have problems with those dissenters sometimes.  But others are very very dear friends.  It’s crazy, but one of my best friends is Democratic, one is Republican and the other is an Independent.  We all know each other and we all get along.  How do we build bridges like that in our everyday lives?  To me, the mission of Christ is to build relationships.  Being in relationship with someone, whether intimate, friend, family or something else, is an opportunity to share, to learn, to grow, to love.  It’s what we are called to do and to be.

I’ve been humbled greatly by some of the things people I’ve seen for the first time in a long time, and some I see regularly, have shared with me this week.  Humbled and nervous.

I struggle still with the outcome of my life.  The long term goal, projections, etc.  I’m still trying to figure out what I want from this.  I’ve made many new friends, found a voice for the first time I feel like I can call my own, can occassionally be involved in things that impact more than just my own life.  I have witnessed miracles every day, both big and small.  I have seen the love of God made manifest in my life and in the life of those around me, through the smallest acts of kindness.

Why then do I still struggle so?  Part of me wonders if this isn’t part of the great mystery that is God, that Mother Teresa and others spoke of.  The sense that the closer we get to God the more alone we feel as the inadequacy of our finite vessel becomes clearer and clearer to us.  We are made to appreciate the mystery more and have to cling to hope and faith ever more the harder.  Faith…

“A belief in things hoped for but unseen”

I could share many testimonies of God’s love in my life.  But the truth of the matter is, I don’t need to know God exists.  I’ve had experiences that can’t be quantified, measured, etc.  I believe God exists… it is the faith that is a gift from God’s Holy Spirit.  A gift I don’t need science to answer.   And since I’m still more or less on the topic of conservative/liberal…sort of…I can talk briefly about this.

One of the things that drives me nuts about people is that they try to force religion and science to answer each other’s questions.  Religion and Science are not in opposition, but concert.  Science tells me how I got here, how the things around us in the wonderful creation act/work, the laws they follow.  Science tells me when things happen and how…and they can answer the little “why?”  But they can’t tell me why I matter, what the purpose of my life is, how to treat my fellow human being and the earth.  That is Religion’s purvue.  Religion answers the big “Why?”  That is not to say one is more important than the other.  I think it is too easily forgotten that some of the most influential early scientists in Europe were priests, men of God who wanted to better understand in our finite and limited way the glories of the world around us.  I think how wonderful that is… and how wonderful it could be again.

My denomination has just started a dialogue on several difficult issues, including homosexuality, baptisim and others.  It’s not the big dramatic step some hoped for and it’s too big for others… It is my earnest prayer that that means it could be just right… for all of us.  All of us are children of God.

http://www.cofchrist.org/wc2010/counsel/default.asp

Thoughts on Yesterday

What do I want to say?

What is it I want?

When do I I feel less alone?

I’m still trying to process yesterday and everything that happened.  I slept in, had been up late gaming, fell asleep on the sofa, climbed into bed somewhere around 4 or so.  Totally missed church, which my son had asked if we could do anyway, so that was one less fight I had on my hands.  We both woke up around noon.  Fixed breakfast, watched an episode and a bit of Stargate: Atlantis with him before I was reminded that I had rehearsal for a drama piece at church for Palm Sunday.  I checked FB before I went to get ready for the day, recieved a message from my Emotional Parole Officer who lovingly chastised me, which I both needed and deserved.  Went and showered…and then…

I don’t really have words for it.  I can tell you the thoughts that went through my head, what I did, the surroundings…but that’s not IT…or at least, not all the experience.  I started off getting angry.  Angry at myself for pushing the boundaries of my vow, angry at myself for making the vow.  Angry that the process of change that I’m in is taking so long.  Then ashamed that I was not more thankful for the blessings I have had along the way.  I’ve had several mantra’s on my bathroom mirror for the last two years, I tore off all but one (after punching the door-jam)…but the one I left up is the important one for me right now I think.

I admit that I am powerless over other people.  My need to be needed and my compulsion to rescue others has made my life unmanageable.

I am forgiven

There were others up about knowing my boundaries and being loved for who I am, but I realized yesterday, I’m not there yet.  I struggle with my boundaries, hence the Emotional Parole Office (a thankless job I’m sure, but I am so very very grateful for him).  And while I realize and hear others talking of loving me for who I am, and I appreciate that…first I’ve got to get to a place where I can truly believe I am forgiven.  And then I started crying.  Crying because I felt like everything and nothing had changed.  Crying because I felt very lost and very loved, because I finally admitted that for this change to be real, for me to be the kind of father, of man, of eventual husband I want to be – it can’t be something SOLELY from inside me.  I AM human….even if I hate to admit it, or at least to the weaknesses of it.

The only coherant thoughts I really have from the 45 minutes or so I was laying there, sobbing into my blankets, was that I had really mixed feelings about my son seeing me like this…and I was begging God to forgive me, asking God to help me forgive myself, and give me the strength to endure.  There were others but those were mainly feelings, emotions that colored everything else.  That and a profound sense of walls crumbling.  As I’ve mentioned earlier this year’s IVL was about letting go of the past, and old habits die hard.  It’s all too easy to fall into old ways of doing things if I’m not paying attention.  Much like an alcoholic’s first thought will be to drink when certain triggers are hit…I’ve got mine, and the reactions they produce.

So then I went to rehearsal – about 40 minutes late…and arrived right in time to hear my cue line:

“What’s going to happen now?”

my line – “Soon enough you’ll find out.” (did I mention that I HATE waiting and am NOT patient)

“Is everything alright?”

And of course….I’m there emotionally raw and bleeding and everyone knows it’s not entirely alright… but since I prefer joy to sorrow I laugh, a weary one to be sure and more than a little expressive, and we all laugh and rehearsal goes on as does the rest of my day.  After rehearsal I stay a while and pray, then visit with a minister there for about an hour before going home.  I check in with my EPO, chat with a friend for a while, watch some tv with my son, then tuck him in and stay up late – reflecting, reading, watching tv, etc.

Pieces of my life are still scattered all around me and I’m not sure what shape the puzzle is making.  I’m at a crossroads, the edge of the boat, as I’ve mentioned before.   My old life lies behind me, new self-destructive habits on one side, new life that I’ve been called to on the other.  I know which direction I need to go… what I’ve always struggled with is lining that direction up with where I WANT to go.  But the thought of turning back or away is a price that’s too high to pay… I just struggle with moving forward.  I feel like there is something I’m missing.  An insight, a clue – maybe some person I’m supposed to ask, some prayer to make.  I feel like I do when you reach that spot in your workout where you plateau and you have to kick it into higher gear to keep getting an effect, only I’m not sure how to kick it into higher gear.  And the dogpaddling is wearing me down.  I need help.  I need to ask for it.  It’s there, all I have to do is reach out for it, be willing to accept it.  But aren’t I supposed to be making this journey on my own?  I don’t understand.  And I feel like Luke watching Yoda effortlessly lift the X-wing from the Dagobagh swamp…I don’t believe it either… how am I supposed to do this?  And where do I find the strength to continue this journey?  (P.S. – b/c I know some of you will worry if I don’t, I’m NOT suicidal, that’s not the journey I’m talking about)  I’m just standing still instead of running… and I’m not entirely sure what’s next or what’s expected of me.  But I feel like the answer is right there and I’ll be ridiculed or let others down if I don’t see it…so I’m frustrated, and it hurts, and I turn away, because although my excuses sound exactly like what they are, I still can’t SEE any solutions…

but maybe there aren’t any…

more praying…and prayers would, as always, be appreciated…

Snowy Lenten thoughts…

So it’s late and I should totally be getting ready for bed and work tomorrow.  That’s the thing about weekends, you can’t wait for them to come but once here they disappear with a flash.  I’ve often wondered the older I get if that feeling would ever go away, much like children think the days last FOR-EEEEEEEEEEVER while we see the months just flyin’ by.  But I think not.  Weekends are like that I suppose.  Take this one for instance.  Friday night after work I went home, spent some time with my son finishing up our Yu-gi-oh card game we’d started the other night, fixed dinner and then I got together with some friends and role-played till about 1:30 in the morning or so.  Saturday I spent the day cleaning up my house and that evening I had about 12 people over for a game night, full of fun, food and board games which lasted till about 1am again, then a friend and I stayed up till about 3 watching a movie.  Sunday brought church, potluck (love our food!), then home to catch up on laundry and other cleaning up from Saturday, then roller-skating for about 90 minutes then home once more to get the kiddo ready for bed and then I settled in to watch a movie.  (Have I mentioned I really really like watching movies?)  And then this…

Where does my time go?

My son wanted to have someone over this week to come visit and as I started looking through my calender of this week it started looking something a bit like this –

Mon – Work, cook/clean, free rest of evening

Tues – Work, cook, roller-skating

Wed – Work, cook, Bible Study

Thurs – Work, cook, help at church with setting up rummage sale for sending our kids to summer church camp

Fri – Work, pick up drive-through, Game night with my friends

Sat – …..getting ready for my second IVLD day, but nothing else yet…

And I thought how amazing it was that I was the one so busy, not him.  Normally it’s the parents shuttling their children around, but this time it’s me.  But during this season of Lent we are supposed to spend the time in prayer and meditation.  Asking for forgiveness of our sins and spending time repenting.  This is a time of preparation, of getting ready to celebrate the miracle that was Easter.  But it has to start in the wilderness…away from all our business and the responsibilities of our lives.  One thing I found out this year as I was looking up some scriptures for church today was that the whole celebration of Lent arose from the scriptures in the Gospels of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he began his ministry.  It was a time of preparation for him as well.  If Jesus needed such a time before he could go out and minister to the world around him, what does that tell us today about how important taking time away is?

And yet, can we do it voluntarily?  I celebrate my Involuntary Liberation Day the first Saturday of every March.  It’s to commemorate the day my ex-wife left me and I was liberated from the shadows of the man I was.  It’s not a celebration of my marriage ending, nor is it a celebration of the fact that she’s gone.  That’s the involuntary part.  I didn’t want it to end.  But WHEN it (my marriage) ended I was presented with the opportunity to be liberated from the mistakes of my past and the painful habits of a lifetime in a way I never would have dreamed of before.  So I celebrate the vista before me.  I have spent much of the past two years wandering in this wilderness.  Some of it has been my wanderings, other times I have allowed myself to be led.  Sometimes I have even managed to hear the voice prompting me in the direction I should be going.  It’s all been a part of my desert journey.  Moses led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years…not because they didn’t know the way, but because the generation that sinned against God had to pass from the earth before they could enter the promised land.  Those who had never known the spirit-crushing weight of slavery would be able to live and flourish in the new land God promised.  My spirit has been wandering because the parts of my life that have sinned against God must pass away before I can enter into a new covenant with Him.

I wasn’t sure I was gonna share anything about this here because as open as I’ve been on here before there are still some things I don’t like talking about…and I know some of the people who read this…of course part of it’s my own fault, I really don’t have to have this attached to my Facebook page…but this is too a part of who I am, and part of this is a public declaration of my desire to be made new in Christ’s own image and to become a better father for my son.  One of the things I am giving up for Lent is the negative images/thoughts/perceptions I have in my head of my own self-worth and of what women are like.

I struggle liking myself.  I have not had a really strong positive self-image since I was a teenager.  My experience with dating tainted, in many ways, my perception of myself and of relationships with women.  I won’t go into details, but I did not do well in the dating arena and got into situations where the decisions I made had very negative consequences for a number of people.  And for most of the past two decades I have not wanted to forgive myself for those mistakes.  Hindsight is not always 20/20 and the lens through which I viewed those times because the prism that delinieated who I was, what I was allowed to do, to say and to be.  I used the guilt, my guilt, and my shame from that time to build up walls around me and in time they twisted who I wanted to be and I became the kind of person who had to have others around me constantly telling me why I was worthwhile to feel loved.  I was a broken and needy soul who hounded others for approval and acceptance because I would not grant it myself.  I turned from those who could give it to me in healthy ways and instead indulged in a lifestyle of sex and drinking that was inherantly self-destructive, even as I sought out what I thought was love and acceptance.  The arrival of my son saved my life, in so many ways… but it did not uncomplicate it, nor did it suddenly make things all better.  Because of the circumstances of his birth and my relationship with his mother, I still struggle some days with how I view him and what my relationship with him should be/can be/will be.  But these last few years I have had several wonderful, challenging, compassionate people in my life who have challenged my old way of thinking in ways that I don’t always like, or want to talk about, or even think about in my own head.  It has hurt, it has caused me discomfort, examining BOTH the good and the bad actions I’ve done in the past and finding out where the ties are that have bound me down.  I don’t claim to know all of them yet, but I am on a path, and as I’m finding them this Lent season, I am letting go…or at least offering them to God, and trying to get out of the way when God takes them.  That has been my promise to God and my challenge.

I’ve also been struggling with reshaping my views on women.  They aren’t all crazy…well, not mean spirited crazy anyway.  😉

I have been hurt many times by women who saw me as a knight out to save them and then discard when no longer needed.  I have held my partners to unrealistic standards of what one person should be responsible for, it was not their place to heal all the hurts in my soul, nor make me into a whole person.  I need to do that myself with God’s help, and then if desired I can move slowly into a healthy relationship with someone.  But I have lots of trigger points, things that make me nervous, make me mad for no appreciable reason, that all arise from old arguements…  I have used and been used by past partners and desire a new way of thinking, living, loving.  All this is part of my penitential prayer –

God,

You who are our parent, lover, friend, and companion.  You whose love and joy know no bounds.  You who run to us with open arms.

I stand before you… broken…torn…ashamed.

I have turned from you, run from you, hide from you.  I have screamed at you, thrown myself away.  Still you chose to stay close.

I fought you until my strength gave out before the patience of your peace.

Holding me, you took me into the desert.

You walk with me, change me, mold me.  Even as the clay of my life screams out in pain and agony at the process I can feel something wonderful happening inside.

I know it’s not me that’s doing it.  But you require that we agree… that we invite you in.

I don’t remember everything that came before, weariness sometimes overtakes my mind.  But I remember the day I asked you.

I asked you to break me and make me new….and so we have gone to the desert together.

But now Lord, I stand halfway.  My scouring is completed for now… the temptations facing me are almost done.  Once again, my strength falters, once again weariness and shame press close in.

I beseech thee God, wrap me up in the joy of the life you offer.  Flood the wrinkles of my soul with your love.  May the peace of You bring balance to the stormy scene inside me.

My journey is not yet done.

I begin this Lent season with me.  With my sin.  With my repentance.  With my desire to turn closer to You.  Oh Lord, let us begin, and let it begin with me, that I may find new life in You.

Amen.

Storytelling

My Grandfather and me
My Grandfather and me

Being a storyteller is a dying art.

There is a deep and powerful tradition of storytelling throughout human history.  People would gather around fires, in dining halls, cabins, and numerous other places to hear a great yarn, or to spin one.  Stories were how people communicated history, identity, dreams for the future, rules to live by and countless other things.  People always have their own ideas as to what quality is MOST human.  Personally I think it’s our ability to tell stories.  Other animals use tools, pass on knowledge, require companionship and have some sort of social hiearchy.  Other animals feel/show pain, joy, love.  Other animals communicate through amazing means.  But I don’t see any of them gathering around to tell stories.  Granted, I’m not entirely convinced they don’t…especially whales and elephants…I mean what else are those big mammels going to do with all their free time…but anyway…

Stories are how we pass on religious truths, family traditions, the importance of heratige, and yet…all too often as a society it seems that we defer that responsibility to others.  TV, movies, books – those who are gifted at telling great tales have a celebrated place, as they always have.  Their audiences are wider and tools flashier to be sure.  But is that the same?  Sitting in a darkened theatre with fifty other people, staring of moving pictures of other people having adventures, then leaving afterwards quietly to go on with our own lives…is that what we’re reduced to?

I tell stories to strech my imagination, to share hopes and dreams with friends and family.  I tell stories because I want to recount funny memories, share important thoughts, share beliefs.  I’ve often viewed my role-playing hobby and the ministry that I offer to be very similar.  Both rely on a sense of the emotional moment, appropriate use of drama and comedy, both bring people together and can pass on knowledge or raise important questions.  It’s one of the reasons I try to read to my son at least a couple times a week.  We end up talking about the story and what words mean almost as much as we actually read.  Sometimes I make up stuff too.  It’s the sharing that’s important.  That’s part of what’s missing in the stories we tell each other today.  Where is the sharing, the common bonds that bind us together?

We often hear phrases like “global village,” “common humanity,” “shared future.”  But what are the stories we tell to make it real?  How do we transmit the importance (if you feel it’s important…I do obviously) of these concepts to our own personal community?  One person standing behind a podium lecturing us changes nothing.  Repeated video clips of people requesting help, challenging us to change, encouraging us to a brighter future…they may help for a time.  But stories are what endure.  Stories are what remain.

One of the best moments of the last couple years for me, came at one of the most difficult times – the death of my maternal grandfather.  He moreso than almost anyone I knew lived a life of stories.  As the last day of my grandfather’s life here on Earth began he had been moved out to the living room in his bed, so we could all be near him and present with him.  He was unconscious for most of the day, but there, at the end he woke ever so briefly – my son got to show him the last picture he ever made for him as well as some toys he’d gotten for that Christmas.  I doubt that image will ever leave my mind.  My grandfather, a man of virtue, love, laughter and stories, creating one last memory…one last story, there at the end.

We are made of stories.

The stories we tell ourselves to get by.  The stories we share with others to define how they perceive us.  The stories that are told about us that shape others outlooks on us and our actions.  The stories that make us laugh, the ones that make us cry.  The stories that bring us hope, hope that, in the end, it will all mean something.  I love telling stoires.  I love hearing stories.  They may be the same stories over and over again, but sharing them with people anew, every time they’re a little different.  I think that’s one of the reasons I like stories better than movies or novels.  A story is a living breathing evolving thing.  Just like us.

I don’t know where my story ends.  I hope not for a while.  I’m not sure of how my son’s story will turn out.  I’ll do my best to share with him the stories that I think are important.  Others will share theirs.  Hopefully mine are funnier.  He is already making his own story.  And his story, our story is impacting the lives of many others who have tied their stories to ours.  We are woven together with words.  We are the story of humanity.  One of the greatest reactions I ever got out of my Sunday School class was when I told them they are creating the next set of Bible stories.  All of us are, every day as we live, breath, love and die in this world.

You are part of someone’s story.  Maybe part of mine.  Just by reading this, you slip in, maybe not say anything, but your passing is noted.  Your interest impacts somewhere.  Stories are strange and mysterious things.  They have a way of starting one way and suddenly veering off in a totally different direction.  But in the really good ones – it all ties down together at the bottom.

Below is my eulogy I wrote for my Grandfather’s funeral.  As you read it, ask yourself this – “What’s my story?  And what’s it say about me?”

It should be noted in history, that by common consent with tear-stained cheeks and bittersweet smiles, this was one of the best Christmas’ ever.  It seems strange to say but I believe Grampie would understand, and agree.

The love and support that has been shown to me and my family has simply been overwhelming.  Couple that with the stories, the laughter and the sharing that my family has done with almost all of us here…it’s been a long time since this many of us were gathered together.

I can’t define my grandfather, but I can share with you this.  Grampie was not a particularly demonstrative man with his emotions, especially the soft-touchy feely ones, but I never have known another man whose life was so full of love.  He showered us with it.  Me, the skunk, the prune, all the George’s, we’ve never doubted his love for us.

I was blessed with a rather unique opportunity in that for eleven years I got to travel with my grandparents every summer to various reunions, sorry family camps now, all over the country.  As I’ve grown older the memories tend to blur together but there are many things I still remember, like sharing the tranatuala with Phil among others, Grampie showing me how to shake out my shoes for scorpions, him and that bag of rattlesnake eggs, grammie taking me out swimming in Lake Huron.  Grandpa teaching me how to play harmonica in the back seat of their car.  Many more memories have been shared this past week.

With mom in the hospital a lot as a child I can remember spending lots of weekends with my grandparents.  Much of that time was taken up playing games, among them Carum & Crokanal.  That was grandpa’s and mine’s special game.  We’be break out the pieces and spend what seemed like hours flicking those small wooden pieces all over the place and oh how he’d jump and laugh whenever we sent one over the edge.  Many was the time he’d get a look in his eye and nod over in grandma’s direction as she sat blissfully unaware in her chair and then grandpa would let fly and it’d land right in her lap and she’d be all a flutter. Or driving with him in the car and playing tag the bumper with the car in front, or complaining about “female drivers”, just to get grandma riled up.  Of course I couldn’t talk about him and not mention circus peanuts and licorice.  Grandpa had a special drawer where he kept his bag of circus peanuts right by the bed and he’d parcel them out every time I came over.  I was also his guinia pig when it came to hot sauces and cheese and I have to admit, my own son has suffered some of the same EEEghhhewww and AAAHHHAHHAAH as I have over the years from gorgonzola and goat milk cheese to jalapenos and habenaros.

We are a left today with a legacy of laughter and love.  I’m reminded of that even as my heart cries because of something grandpa said to me about joy.  It’s not that joy means we’ll never have pain, it’s that we believe in the hope and promise of what’s to come in the midst of our pain that we may thrive and live with glad hearts and good cheer.

Faith & Fatherhood…

I was listening to the radio today and heard someone refer to Miss California as our “modern day Esther.”  Seriously?  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe I walk in a strange place but as a practicing Christian I’m totally okay with the idea that America is NOT a Christian Nation.  It’s not like we have such a hot record on running countries/empires/nations anyway.  If I believe what I say I do, that God is my one-in-all then isn’t my allegiance really to God?  How can I just say “God Bless America” instead of “God Bless Us All?”  Too many fellow believers fall into a category I can’t take credit for but really like – people who are “RIGHT-ness-ous” rather than “rightous.”

That is to say that thier way is the one and only RIGHT way to be.

I do not have doubt that God exists, but I wonder what God thinks of people like that.  Course, I often wonder what he thinks of me…personally I just hope God laughs, and often!

But my knowledge is not the same as faith…and I wonder sometimes if that’s where my struggles lie.

If I KNOW something to be true, how can I hope for something I’ve never seen?  What if I’ve seen it?  I wonder about that seperation time and time again as a parent.  As my son was learning to walk, he could see other people walking and knew he could do the same…is that faith?  As my son has watched mother & mother-type figures leave him over and over again, reinforcing the pattern…where does faith come in?

Maybe this is the disconnect between experience and reason, between nature and nurture, I don’t know.

Maybe I’m just blathering because my head hurts, it’s almost quittin time and I’m wondering just what the next few weeks will hold as I get the divorce paperwork filled out and get ready to send my boy off for summer vacation with his mother…

I have faith that things will get better…

But I know they have to get a little worse first…

Choices and Judgements

It’s never comfortable to be faced with the realities of the prejudices we live with and to some extent accept.

I live in a nice condo on the edge of the town square, surrounded by lots of lower-income rental units.  Some people I know living in them are really nice, friendly…others perhaps not so much.  But after working in social work for over 5 years, living in a low-income housing complex and having my face shoved in the assumptions I’d held since a child, I’m somewhat loathe to judge others.  Could be they just like their privacy.

There’s another condo across the street where my grandmother lived before she died and I still go over there every month to vacuum the halls.  It’s not much, an additional $20 to clean up the carpets, usually takes a little over an hour.  Not a big deal.  The top floor is usually the messiest, the middle floor the cleanest and the bottom floor somewhere in between.  As I was working on the middle floor one of the residents there, a nice older lady who belongs (somewhat sad to say) to my denomination but attends a different congregation, started visiting with me.

Now I love to visit with people, both in the talking and the listening, but one of the comments this nice woman (I know she would probably be embarrased if she knew how she sounded) made stuck with me.  “How can they live like that?” (Referring to the condition of the carpet…honestly it’s dirty but not particularly filthy) “They’re mother doesn’t live here, but anyway, those people are all renters, they don’t see any custodian, probably don’t worry about it.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just sweep the leaves and things back outside themselves.”

This comment stacks with another one that’s been weighing on my mind by one of my condo neighbors, who in referring to the people living in the very low income apartment complex right behind us said, “They’re just a whole different class of people back there.”  Granted, the old lady who said this had had her vehicles broken into…twice…Nevertheless, she was a minister (also in my denomination and again, attending a different congregation).  Lest I leave you thinking everyone in my denomination is prejudiced and arrogant I can assure you that’s not true, but I was troubled by the views of these ladies and what it represented about where I live.

In my faith tradition there are different types of ministers who have specific duties and one of them is called “Teacher.”  Now it’s not the same as a Sunday School or Public School teacher, one of the duties of the minister Teacher is to stop gossip and hurtful expressions in a congregation, to encourage reconsiliation and support those in need.  I have a pagan friend who knows my tradition very well and he made the comment the other day as we were talking religion that “they would kill Teachers if Teachers acted the way they were supposed to.”

You know, in a way he’s right.

I’m wrestling with my own calling to Teacher.  I should have said something.  I should have stood up, gently and compassionately, but stood up nonetheless for those who were being judged and found less worthy for no reason other than they were different.  I should have used the opportunity to share my own expereiences as a social services worker and my personal expereiences with hitting rock bottom.  They were opportunities…ones I didn’t take.

It was easier to smile and nod.  To avoid the conflict, the arguement, the challenge.  But that’s exactly what I’m called to do.  To help build bridges between the middle class whites I live with and the lower class whites and minorities who are a part of our community.  I may get along with them fine but my responsibility doesn’t end there.  I am called to build community – IN community…and that’s a scary thing.

It means opening up about parts of my life that can help me share understanding with others.  It means helping even when I don’t want to.  It means seeing God in ALL my neighbors, seeing ME in all my neighbors.  It means being open to follow wherever I’m led, even if I feel like I should be the last person to say anything.

My son also, is growing up in this environment.

A couple years ago we were waiting in line at a new Wal-Mart that had opened up several miles from our house in a different part of town and we were in line to check out when I saw that the line next to us was shorter and moving faster so I moved us from the one we were in to the faster line.  My son’s question “Did we move to this line becuase she’s white?” (referring to the cashier) totally took me by surprise.  I had to double check the lines to make sure that the innocent observatin of my son wasn’t more spot on than it was.  After checking to make sure that the line we were in really was doing what I thought it was, I reassured him that no, we were in this line because it was moving faster.  But it got me thinking, how had my son gotten this idea in his head, that somehow white has to go to white and black to black?  What was there in my life?  In our friends/family life?

I have friends from many different walks of life.  Different faiths, different soci-economic status, different ethnicities, different nationalities.  But what assumptions underlay those relationships?  It’s never comfortable to look too closely at what we take for granted.

I can be short tempered, self-center, stubborn, stingy, arrogant, hurtful and demanding.

BUT…

I can also be loving, compassionate, generous, patient, trustworthy and honest.

That’s the crazy thing…

We’re given the choice.  I’m trying to make the better ones…