Not Everybody wants to be touched

 

I forgot that on Sunday morning. During the final hymn, I left the chancel to make my way to the back of the church. That’s my weekly routine. Personally, I want to connect with as many folks as possible before they leave.

As I made my way down a side aisle, I gave a high-five to a UNC alum. I winked at some ornery friends. I touched the shoulder of an older man who is recovering from surgery.  I introduced myself to a visiting young couple. 

Then, I made my way to the head usher, at the central back door. Each week, during these quick minutes, she silently points out any other guests she wants me to meet.  If she got their names, she gives me that information as well. 

As I stood there, I noticed someone sitting in the back of another section of the sanctuary. A niece of one of our unpaid office staff visits several times a year.  I wanted to say hello.  Because the niece was sitting in the middle of the back pew, I went up behind her and touched her shoulder.  I didn’t want to scare her, but I wanted her to know I noticed her.  She looked over her shoulder, grinned and nodded.  The older woman sitting next to her, noticed my intrusion.  She is a long-time member, but I don’t know her very well.  She rarely speaks to anyone.  She and her husband sneak in and out of the sanctuary without drawing any attention to themselves.  They are loners.

I touched the older woman on the shoulder and smiled. I wanted to apologize for breaking in.  She turned around and slapped me. It wasn’t a love pat; it was more of a slug.  It startled me, for sure. I had never been hit in church.

I quickly exited out another side door. I didn’t want to cause any commotion.  I wanted to greet others.  I whispered into the head usher’s ear, and she simply mouthed, “must not be taking her meds”. That made sense. This older saint has schizophrenia.  I had forgotten that.  The ushers know about it. 

The incident wasn’t over. As I was standing at the central door, my nemesis made a bee-line toward me, shoving others out of the way.  Fury had possessed her.   Thankfully, her husband held her by the elbows and was escorting her out.  She was swinging.

My heart sunk as the husband pushed past me and out the back door.  I’m grateful that at our church, we have open doors. Everybody is welcome. This incident was a reminder that we need to develop appropriate responses.  I’m going to research mental health first aid.  I just wanted to put this in writing again.  Not everybody wants to be touched.

 

What Is Your Why?

 

Do you know someone is fixated on that question?  Why do I have to eat my vegetables? Why do I have to practice the piano? Why do I have to work so hard? Why can’t I sleep late?

When my kids were younger, they were fascinated with the question of why.  Frankly, I didn’t always have a good answer.

“Why did my hamster die”, one would ask.                                                              

“Why do dinosaur bones smell  bad?”                                                     

 “Why is the sky Carolina blue?”

Okay, I do have an answer.  I’m a Carolina Tarheel.  So is God.  I’ll confess like a lot of parents who don’t have the answers to all the why’s, my go-to response was “because I said so”.  Yet, why is such an important question. It might be the MOST important one.

By the way, the answer to the question “Why do dinosaur bones smell bad?”  It’s because they’re ex-stinked.

Our response to the question of why can answer the more over-arching questions of our lives. It can explain why we get up every morning, why we what we do. Let’s face it, we live in a day and age with more hows than whys. As my 21 year old son likes to tell me, one can learn how to do just about anything on youtube these days. Did you know from youtube videos, among other things, you can learn how to make a fire with a lemon, how to survive being buried alive, how to butcher a massive alligator, how to lose that wiggly arm fat?  Again, we live in a culture of hows.

Yet, I believe that what we long to claim is not our how; Rather, it’s our why. A long time ago, a wise person once said, “The one who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”.  A number of years ago, I developed a spiritual practice. Instead of going through my list of must-dos, have-tos, should dos and want tos, I remember my why. My why is to love God and love others.  For me, it is really that simple. 

In the course of any day, along with all my tasks and duties, I am open.  If I receive an unexpected phone call, or an interrupted visit, I frame it in a spirit of openness.  I shift my thinking from another have to, to a possible follow through to my why.  If it addresses my why, I take it.  If it doesn’t, I set it aside.

What is your why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God bless the broken roads

You may remember from my last post, “Wedding Woes”,  that there were some detail challenges at the rehearsal the previous evening. For instance, I mentioned that there were a couple of bridesmaid no-shows.  I knew the Matron of Honor was among the missing.  I realized later that Lori was the bride’s identical twin sister. She and the bride had exchanged some stinging insults months before. Apparently, they historically had competed for their parents’ financial support.  Not showing up at rehearsal was Lori’s “nana nana boo boo”. To end the argument once and for all, the bride was paying for this wedding herself. Lori didn’t know that until the morning of the ceremony. I guess, in Lori’s mind, she had won. I’m not so sure.

When I arrived at the barn, I was caught off guard by the ambiance. Unlike other rustic venues, this place was smaller.  It had been decorated with simple strings of white lights.  Had I seen something similar on Pinterest? I immediately checked in with the bride.  I wanted to gauge her pre-wedding vibe. In the over-sized pantry converted into dressing room, she was fanning herself, trying not to melt. Let me just say; Rose was stunning.  She looked as if she had stepped out of a bridal magazine.  Standing there, she was in full bloom, a “Great Maiden’s Blush”. If you don’t know, that is a very old rose, a European antique, an old soul, one that blooms best on the darkest pathways of the pine grove.

Even under the circumstances, Rose was calm and collected. Unfortunately, her mother kept smothering her, begging for one more hug. Her tears were leaving make up smudges on the bride’s white gown. So, after taking one more picture, the photographer found something for the mother of the bride to do.

Meanwhile, I found a bridesmaid who was willing to be the ceremony’s detail manager.  She would signal me from the back of the room, as the wedding party lined up.  We worked out hand gestures for different scenarios.   I felt like a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. Thumbs up meant that everyone was ready.  A cutting throat to me and the DJ was “Stop the music. We need more time”.  Praying hands meant, “danger, danger, everybody take cover. Something is about to blow”.

At the last minute, two more children under the age of 7 were added to the processional.  Remember the baby who would be pulled in a wagon down the aisle by a flower girl?  She was screaming. Thankfully, the DJ had plenty of elevator music to play as he stalled.  With everyone else seated, we had to wait for grandmothers on both sides of the new family to arrive.

Forty-five minutes late, the music started. I got a “thumbs up” from the back. All bridesmaids, including the matron of honor, processed down the aisle.  Then, the ring bearer walked, holding the hand of one of the flower girls.  Next, another flower girl started pulling the well-decorated wagon.  Someone had built a small throne for the wagon, covered with a soft white blanket.  She was strapped in with a seat belt, and she cooed from her chariot. Two other children came down the aisle and stood like mannequins in place.

Then the music shifted.  Before the bride turned to walk down the aisle, she paused.  I couldn’t judge her father’s sobriety from my point of view. He was quiet, yet upright. That pause caused us all to focus on the first few bars of the music she had chosen for her entrance.  Remember my last post?  “God Bless the Broken Road” was playing. Could that song have been any more fitting?

Now, as a seasoned wedding officiant, I smile widely, projecting calm. Through winks and nods, I assure the wedding party that I’ve got this.  They can relax.  I am there for them.

When the music started, I looked at the bridesmaids and groomsmen, nodding.  I winked at the mother of the bride.  I acknowledged the groom’s family.  I looked at the groom.  When he saw his bride for the first time, he sobbed.  Ugly crying is not something any bride or groom intends. Yet, he couldn’t contain himself. When he walked to the first row to shake hands with her father, he pulled it together.  He offered his left arm to his bride with strength and respect.  His father stepped back. When he did that, the bride lost it.  The groom started crying again.

I couldn’t read their blubbering. I didn’t want to embarrass them, nor quiet them.  So, I waited for a minute.  I handed them tissues I kept up my sleeve.  In my heart of hearts, I just kept praying, “God bless the broken road that leads them back to you”.

The bride and groom are now married.  They received gifts, greeted family members, and ate wedding cake.  I signed the marriage certificate and hugged my new friends. Someday I will tell those two again what a privilege it was to officiate their wedding.  That day, they gave me a gift. They reminded me what an honor it is to bless broken roads.  Ultimately, that’s a huge part of what I am called to do as a pastor. I am grateful for such an intimate vocation and those who ask me to be there. I am being church in a different way.

Wedding Woes

I officiate a lot of weddings.  Over the last 29 years, I’ve conducted over 200 of them.  Not all of them have been in churches. So, I have learned to adapt.  Because of that, one would think nothing surprises me.  Think again.

Last night, I attended a wedding rehearsal for today’s 4:30 pm event.  Surprisingly, the rehearsal was held in a Township party room, just big enough for 5 long tables.  Those tables had already had been set up.  There was no center aisle or designated space for us to rehearse. Clearly, the highlight of the evening was the food which was catered by the bride.  She was still opening bags of chips and Tupperware when I arrived.

The rehearsal was scheduled for 6pm.  At 6:20, some of the wedding party were seated in family clusters at the tables.  The rest of the party hadn’t shown up.  Finally, I decided it was time to start.  The bridesmaid no-shows would have to follow someone else.

To make things worse, there was no wedding coordinator.  Some churches provide them to make sure the wedding party walks down the aisle at the right time.  They make sure that boutonnieres are on straight.  They sew on a button or organize ushers, if need be. They make sure the marriage license gets signed and back in the hands of the bride.  In my opinion, they are priceless. After the mothers are seated, I walk in from a side door with the groom, standing up front.  So, I am in no position to line up bridesmaids in the back. Last night, however, I gave it a shot.  I positioned the bride and groom under the large screen television.  It was almost in the center of the room.  We pushed back some tables.  I imagined seats and stationed the parents in their places.  Then I walked the 5 giant steps to the other side of the room to line up everyone else. 

That’s when I met the ring bearer. He won’t be carrying the actual rings. He just wanted a part in the show.  I also met the 2 flower girls under the age of 7.  One of them will be pulling a wagon with their 5 month old baby sister in it.  Picture that.  How do you think that’s going to go?  Last night, the baby was not willing to rehearse her part, so we had to pretend she would cooperate during the wedding.

If that weren’t stressful enough, we had no music with which to rehearse. Nobody could remember the song to which the bridesmaids were entering.  If someone had remembered, we could have brought it up on an iphone. I might have hummed it loudly, if I had just known what it was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t written down anywhere.  The bride and groom had ordered programs, which were printed months ago, before I was contacted.  Ann’s Bridal Bargains was having a sale. The programs only list the seating of the mothers, entrance of the bride, exchange of vows and rings, sand ceremony and pronouncement of marriage.  The rituals of a wedding ceremony have changed. Have you noticed that?

Now, don’t assume that I was completely uninformed.  The bride and groom had given me the address where the wedding ceremony will be held today.  That’s right.  It will not be in the Township party room, but in a barn in another part of town.  The bride also had told me that she was processing on her father’s arm to the song “God Bless the Broken Road,” by Rascal Flatts.  It will be played by the DJ hired to emcee the “boogie down” at the reception.  She also told me that her father would probably be drunk. I can’t wait .  I can’t wait because meeting people where they are ……. doing church in a different way.

 

Doing Church her way

On Monday night, I organized several tables of Euchre (a card game) at a local restaurant/bar.  I do this once a month.  Most of those who play are either church members or friends of members.  It’s been a great way to get to know others without any social pressure.  In Ohio, euchre is bike riding.  You learn it as a child.

My 23 year old daughter texted me.  She wanted to know what I was doing.  I  texted back,  “Euchre”. She asked if I needed another player.  I texted, “no.”

Now, Hannah is not a regular church attender.  She is a CEO (Christmas and Easter only).  Baptized and confirmed in the faith, she is typical of many her age.  Of course,  her father died suddenly  when she was only 17.  Consequently, her faith in a Caring God took a nosedive. Right or wrong, I have given her lots of room to doubt and explore.  My only requirement, which is a gift to me, is to show up on Christmas Eve and Easter.  Once, I asked her to come on Mother’s Day.  She decided to rescue a friend who was having car trouble instead.  The nerve!

Anyway, she loves our church.  Total strangers have loved and encouraged her.  They have let her be.  Even when she was a fitness competitor who posted bikini pictures on her facebook page, most didn’t judge her.  The few who did got unfriended to my applause.  That being said, she does church her way.

Monday night, I assured her we had enough players.  She asked to come and hang out anyway. When she arrived, she immediately walked by me to hug another player, a church member with whom she has played in another league.  “What about me?” I protested.  Everyone laughed.  Hannah makes an entrance.  She is a charismatic force, so it was clear that “she was in the house.” As she pulled up a chair beside me, one of the players at another table bowed out.  Matt wanted to make room for Hannah to play in his spot. I went back to my game.

When most of us were finished, I headed over to her table.  One player was crying.

What had Hannah said? Did she do something to make this woman cry? This woman is my friend.  She is a church member, for heaven’s sake.  Let’s face it, not all young adults are sensitive to the feelings of others.  My anxiety started to rise.  I am a protective pastor.

Come to find out, Pat was grieving.  A loved one had died and she wasn’t able to drive to the calling hours.  It was too far.  So Hannah told her that she would drive her. She would be her chauffeur.  She would pick her up the next day and accompany her.  Pat was crying because Hannah was doing church her way.

 

Holy Land Pilgrimage, Overview

From March 8 – March 17, I was in Israel.  I joined 30plus others, (ages 13-90) from around Ohio on a spiritual pilgrimage. Our trip was organized by my colleague, Todd Anderson and a company called Educational Opportunities.  Dr. Peter Hahn was one of our hosts.  A research scholar, Professor Hahn specializes in U.S. foreign relations in the Middle East since 1940.  One of his areas of expertise is human conflict, peace and diplomacy.

The purpose of our trip was two-fold.  First, we were there to walk where Jesus walked.  We were there to experience the Scripture in a new way, being physically present in the setting where many stories were told.    We were also there to learn about the current realities of the nation and how those realities developed.

While in the country, we stayed in three different hotels, one in Bethlehem, one in Tiberias, and one in Jerusalem.  The hotels were 4 and 5 star establishments with varying amenities. In Tiberias, for example, I took a dip in a hot springs pool after a long day of traveling. It was luscious. Every day there were excursions to historic sites.  We travelled by bus and our tour guide, Rula, a Palestinian Christian, gave us information about what we would be seeing.  Rula studied Tour guiding at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Fluent in 4 languages, and a lifelong practicing Christian, her guidance was priceless.

I made it home around 12:30am Saturday and will spend the weekend reflecting on my experience.  In the next several blogs, I will share some more insights about the trip and its impact on my faith.  To keep things interesting, I will also divulge what I learned about overseas packing.  Who knew that my roommate would pack throwaway  underwear? Frankly, I never thought about that.  I will also share my pledge not to get robbed on such a trip again.  That’s another story.

A little bit jet-lagged, my goal this weekend is to set up this blog, take a nap, catch up on March madness and tease you with blogs to come. Have I done  that?  If so, let me know.