Priorities when we’re short on time

Dear God,

Time is short, so I only have a moment…

Isn’t that the description of the way I often deal with you…”I’ve only got a moment”…”Oh yeah, Thank you”…or, ”Lord, I didn’t think of this earlier, but thanks again.”

No ill intentions or intentional snub here…I just get busy and forget. As much as I like to think differently I suspect forgetting is a more accurate story of my faith life at times. I’m embarrassed to even think that’s the truth, and even more embarrassed to see it written on paper for everyone else to see.

So then I start talking to myself, and I says to myself, I says, “Self, is this the best you can do?” And then, stuck there talking to myself with nobody else to put pressure on me, I have to tell myself very clearly that it’s not. I can do better.

So what keeps me from doing better? That’s a good question, so I says to myself, I says, “Self, why don’t you do better than you are, especially given the fact that we’ve had this conversation many times over the years?” Then I bring out the excuses…

At first I bring out the “I’m busy”-thing.

Then I try the “I just forget”-thing.

I usually work in the “I’ll do it better later”-thing.

If I’m feeling defensive I’ll play the “People have been demanding too much lately”-thing.

But then, after none of these “things” actually get to the core of it I’ll have to admit that I just don’t make thanking you a priority. I don’t make a priority of thanking you in the morning for the new day ahead of me: that I’ve been given another opportunity to enjoy a day of life and see my loved ones and friends. I’ll admit that I don’t make a priority of pausing at night when I lay my head on the pillow: thanking you for the day, whether good or bad, and pausing to consider where I’ve seen you throughout the day.

Dear God,

Time is short, so I only have a moment…

Isn’t that the description of the way I often deal with you…”I’ve only got a moment”…”Oh yeah, Thank you”…or, ”Lord, I didn’t think of this earlier, but thanks again.”

No ill intentions or intentional snub here…I just get busy and forget. As much as I like to think differently I suspect forgetting is a more accurate story of my faith life at times. I’m embarrassed to even think that’s the truth, and even more embarrassed to see it written on paper for everyone else to see.

So then I start talking to myself, and I says to myself, I says, “Self, is this the best you can do?” And then, stuck there talking to myself with nobody else to put pressure on me, I have to tell myself very clearly that it’s not. I can do better.

So what keeps me from doing better? That’s a good question, so I says to myself, I says, “Self, why don’t you do better than you are, especially given the fact that we’ve had this conversation many times over the years?” Then I bring out the excuses…

At first I bring out the “I’m busy”-thing.

Then I try the “I just forget”-thing.

I usually work in the “I’ll do it better later”-thing.

If I’m feeling defensive I’ll play the “People have been demanding too much lately”-thing.

But then, after none of these “things” actually get to the core of it I’ll have to admit that I just don’t make thanking you a priority. I don’t make a priority of thanking you in the morning for the new day ahead of me: that I’ve been given another opportunity to enjoy a day of life and see my loved ones and friends. I’ll admit that I don’t make a priority of pausing at night when I lay my head on the pillow: thanking you for the day, whether good or bad, and pausing to consider where I’ve seen you throughout the day.

Dear God,

Time is short, so I only have a moment…

Isn’t that the description of the way I often deal with you…”I’ve only got a moment”…”Oh yeah, Thank you”…or, ”Lord, I didn’t think of this earlier, but thanks again.”

No ill intentions or intentional snub here…I just get busy and forget. As much as I like to think differently I suspect forgetting is a more accurate story of my faith life at times. I’m embarrassed to even think that’s the truth, and even more embarrassed to see it written on paper for everyone else to see.

So then I start talking to myself, and I says to myself, I says, “Self, is this the best you can do?” And then, stuck there talking to myself with nobody else to put pressure on me, I have to tell myself very clearly that it’s not. I can do better.

So what keeps me from doing better? That’s a good question, so I says to myself, I says, “Self, why don’t you do better than you are, especially given the fact that we’ve had this conversation many times over the years?” Then I bring out the excuses…

At first I bring out the “I’m busy”-thing.

Then I try the “I just forget”-thing.

I usually work in the “I’ll do it better later”-thing.

If I’m feeling defensive I’ll play the “People have been demanding too much lately”-thing.

But then, after none of these “things” actually get to the core of it I’ll have to admit that I just don’t make thanking you a priority. I don’t make a priority of thanking you in the morning for the new day ahead of me: that I’ve been given another opportunity to enjoy a day of life and see my loved ones and friends. I’ll admit that I don’t make a priority of pausing at night when I lay my head on the pillow: thanking you for the day, whether good or bad, and pausing to consider where I’ve seen you throughout the day.

Being honest with ourselves isn’t easy. I do a pretty good job of keeping you in mind every day, but at times I have to admit I’m more talk than action. I talk about the analogy of faith being the muscle that needs to be used in order to stay strong, but the truth of the matter is that at times I don’t “get to the gym” or do the exercise so that my relationship with you gets stronger rather than weakened from non-use.

I guess keeping you in my life will come down to only one thing: either I’m going to make a commitment (and renewed commitment) to you or I’m not…it’s that simple.

I suspect that you’re as welcoming of excuses for not getting something done as any parent would be. If I asked my kids to clean the room and they give me excuses I’d be irritated, frustrated, angry, and disappointed that I asked them to do something simple and they didn’t do it. I can then guess that when I play the “busy”, “forget”, “later”, “demands” card or anything else, the truth of the matter is I didn’t do what you want me to do and that I said I would do. I suspect that you’d also be disappointed with me as I have been with my own kids.

So, I’m going to try over. I’m going to hit the re-set button. I’m making a sticky note right now and putting it on my calendar and all I’m going to put on the note is “Remember.” Until my memory issues start to get worse I think that’s all I’ll need: Remember to be thankful.

So let me thank you right now. Thank you for not casting me out when I continually set you aside with so many excuses. I know I might not be perfect about this every day but I am going to exercise my faith muscle to simply “Remember”.

As always, thanks for listening. I love you.

Dan

 

If my friends could see me now…

Dear God,

“If my friends could see me now…” Who hasn’t spoken these words before!

I just said that to Janita, you know, our office everything (she doesn’t like me to say the “s” word!). I think she and my wife have put me on a pedestal of virtue, so she was, naturally, shocked when I said that to her.

I’m not sure exactly how that comment came up, but it is likely a vague reference to something I might have done before I became a minister. You know…that Dan. I tried to reassure her that I wasn’t as bad as all the stories she might have heard about me if she had coffee with some of my old friends, but I’m not sure she entirely believed me. My friend’s mother, Clair Hanson, and I were talking about this topic some time ago and she said, “You were never bad, but you were certainly a rascal.” Yeah, I’ll stick with that story.

After all, I never got into any real trouble. Heck, I think I only had three speeding tickets in all my years of driving. The most memorable was when I was in seminary in Minneapolis and was asked to fill the pulpit for a pastor in a small town in Iowa, about three hours away. I was driving my ’69 Corvette and was late so I was going with the traffic flow, i.e., speeding. When the Trooper asked what my rush was I told him I was heading to a specific town to preach. He stepped back, looked at the Corvette, and said, “Sure you are.”, as he wrote out the ticket. I should’ve worn my collar.

Looking back I can see that my “rascally” days started in elementary school. I grew familiar with the taste of soap, had my mouth taped shut more than once, and spent more than a couple of afternoons after school washing blackboards. Most of those celebrations of the human spirit came about with the collaboration of my best bud, Charlie McClavey, who’s likely in prison now. Middle school was unmemorable except for not having Beatle boots. High school was more colorful and I was sort of on a “first-name basis” with my high school principal, Mr. St. Thomas, who was a very nice man when veins in his head weren’t exposed. In retrospect I think he just liked my witty conversation and pleasant company because he never looked angry when he would roll his eyes and say, “Mr. Herman. I’ll see you now.”

My college years saw a level of sophistication of being a rascal (I’m still sticking with Clair’s description of me), but I still never got in any trouble. Looking back I would suspect that my college friends would be more surprised than anyone that I actually became a minister, even though I had told all of them that my call was to become a pastor.

So, why am I talking about this with all of you? Because the changes that have come about in my life haven’t simply been a matter of years. I had to make a choice. My mother made sure I always had a

a connection with you and your church from birth through high school. Even in college I attended the local UCC church fairly regularly, even if I had to really push myself out of bed from the night before. I can say that I think the real changes in my life came when I decided I had wanted to be a representative of Christ. Sounds corny, I know, but it’s true. No matter where I was in my development as a person I knew I always had the light of the question of what Jesus would want of me: a light to encourage me or push me to challenge who I was and what I was doing.

When I get lazy now I can allow my opinions to lead my actions. When I’m on my game I try to place the stories of Jesus and scripture before my opinions. When I do that I hear the words of the prophet Micah when he said, “What does the Lord require but that do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before him.” No matter who I used to be I see now that my choices must always reflect your command to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before you in life.

I’m grateful for the stories of fun I had in life, some of which I’ll just keep to myself, and that you protected me in all my years. And I’m grateful for the compass you have given to me follow. I liked who I was before, but I like who I am now even more.

As always, thanks for listening and thanks for seeing me through my years. I love you. Dan

 

 

Pastoral Ponderings

Dear God,

The door to my childhood home wasn’t anything fancy.

 

You probably remember the old farm house we were raised in: big by many standards. Three bedrooms upstairs: my three dorky brothers in one, two sisters in another, and me in the unheated third. My parents had the bedroom downstairs with a “master bath” which meant the downstairs stool was in a closet-sized area in their room. There wasn’t anything “master-ish” about that area. The actual bathroom was upstairs…which clearly marks it in the pre-handicap accessible days.

 

There were three doors into the house. Nobody really used the front porch door, and unless coming directly from the car the garage door grew cobwebs. It was the door to the mudroom that most everyone used. This was the grand entry into the Herman household.

 

It wasn’t fancy. It was a storm door leading into the “mud room” for boots and some clutter. That let into a short five-foot hall to hang up various coats for eight people on heavy-laden hooks that mercifully didn’t pull out of the walls.

 

That door was important.   If us kids were having a tousle or an argument, Mom would tell us to “take it outside…” on the other side of the door. If we were too noisy we’d be told the same. If we complained about being “bored” Mom would tell us to go outside (on the other side of the door) and find something to do. If we were in a foul mood we’d be told to “go outside (on the other side of the door) and come back in with a better attitude.” The statement, “Don’t come through that door with mud on your boots” was as familiar as the 23rd Psalm and Lord’s Prayer.

 

When we were teenagers and trying to get away with something we’d always want to be sure we had our stories straight before we walked through the door. If we were trying to hide something (not me, of course…my siblings!) we’d (or I should say, they) would take one last look at our best straight face in the reflection of the glass storm door. If we were coming in after curfew we would open the door slowly with the illusion that Mom and Dad wouldn’t notice what time we were getting in.

 

After my dad had his stroke my family was “on welfare,” but I always remember that for as little as we had the doors of my parent’s home were always welcoming. We were unique in our small farming area in that my dad got to know a number of African Americans from his civil rights days who would come to our house: a bit of a scandal to our little farming community of 300 people in the 60’s.

 

In thinking of all of this it struck me that doors, while they are meant to obviously keep unwanted things/people out, are just as powerful of a symbol on letting people in. Nobody was unwelcome to the doors of our home…not even the Fuller Brush salesman.

 

The doors of your church are a symbol of many things. Through the doors of the church people come to understand Jesus, hope, mercy, justice, kindness, compassion, and challenge. Through those doors we walk each week to remember who we are: your followers who want to sacrifice and change lives. While many doors in the world are meant to separate people, the doors of the Christian Church are meant to invite: which is why it’s always nice in the summer to worship with the doors open.

 

I just thought I’d let you know I was thinking of what a sign of welcome and hope the doors of our church are to people who struggle and search for meaning. It occurred to me how important it is for our congregation to always have open doors to your world.

Thanks for listening. I love you.         Dan

 

Pastoral Ponderings

Dear God,

You were there. In fact, all your people from the Old Stone Church were there.

You know I just started serving as a volunteer in the Rockford Police Chaplains unit. I don’t share a lot of what happens, but I think the members of our congregation would be surprised to know how I prepare for every call: by calling upon you for wisdom and strength, and by remembering that I represent an entire congregation of loving people who want to be of service to your world.

So it’s no exaggeration for me to say to both you and our congregation, “You were there.”

     You all were there. It was 2 a.m. I had just gotten home at 1 o’clock from a cook-out for the night shift after the police shootings in Baton Rouge. An hour later I received the call to come to Rockford to find the family of a 17 year-old boy who was shot.

Think of how disturbing it is to get a phone call in the middle of the night. More often than not, frustratingly (but fortunately), it’s a wrong number. If we can appreciate how much a phone call with a wrong number startles us, imagine having your doorbell rung or a knock on the door at 2 a.m. We’d cautiously ask who is there…frightened to open the door. You can imagine the things that race through a person’s mind when they see a police officer and chaplain standing in the dark.

It was the grandfather of the young man who opened the door. He gave the officer and I the mother’s address and we headed to her house while he went to the hospital. Going across town I knocked on another door and met the boy’s mother whom I drove to St. Anthony’s. The three of us waited for two hours in the waiting room: telling stories of their lives and speaking words of hope, only to have the doctor come with grim news about 5 a.m. There was the expected shock and emotion, the identification of the young man’s body, then silence, shock, disbelief. You were all there with me.

I got home at 6:30 and tried to get a bit of rest. At 9:00 I received a call to come to Rockford again to help notify a family of a death. Laughingly, it was about the family from the night before…someone forgot to tell the Detective Division that I had been done the notification. So much for sleep as I climbed into the chaplain’s van and headed to church to write a bulletin.

t to tell the Detective Division that we took care of that the night before. So much for sleep. Get in the chaplain’s van and head to the office.

You were all there that same afternoon. A man requested a welfare check on his brother-in-law whom he hadn’t heard from in nearly a week. It was during that 100-degree week. We found the man had passed away. Second story. No air conditioning. The coroner said he had likely died 4-5 days previous. I stood by the body and said a prayer: sorry that the man had suffered the indignity of not having been found earlier. I spoke to the brother-in-law who spoke gently of the deceased, but said the man had a long, difficult journey in life. He would tell the man’s sister. You were all there.

     You were all there. The Machesney Park PD asked for help from the Chaplain’s Division to find the family of a young man, 22, who had died in Rockford…likely from a heroin overdose. I went to various houses, made calls, and finally found the parent’s home. When I walked up the driveway in my collar and chaplain’s shirt I saw the young man’s mother. I asked if there was anyone with her and if we could sit down but she wanted to talk right there in the middle of the driveway. As she held the bucket to water her flowers I shared the tragic news and grabbed her when her knees began to crumble. The boy had been through drug treatment twice and appeared to be doing well, but heroin is far more seductive than most can imagine. I waited for more family to arrive before leaving them all to grieve. You were all there.

     You were all there again. The woman was 52 and died in her apartment. By the time I arrived her mother was there with friends. It took over an hour for the police to get the woman on the gurney and presentable for her mother to identify her. Her mother’s first words: “My poor baby. You died all alone.” I didn’t want to say anything, but I knew she wasn’t alone. You were there when she died, Lord, and all of you were there beside me in the aftermath: giving strength and offering compassion and grace in final moments. Rarely do I ever think of myself doing things alone…you are there with my entire congregation. Thank you, because I couldn’t do any of this without all of you.

Dan

 

June 2016

Pastoral Ponderings . . .
Dear God,
Tell me it’s not irritating to you when your car doesn’t run well. OK, so maybe you can’t quite relate to that, but I’m a bit irritated because my ’53 MG-TD isn’t running smoothly.
I’ve had a long love/hate relationship with cars, and my dad always told me I was “car poor”: investing my time and money into cars when it could have been better used.
Remember my first car? I bought a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle when I was 15. My dad’s friend, John, worked on Volkswagens in his spare time, largely, I believe, to supplement his stock in Budweiser. If I remember correctly I paid $50 for my pride and joy: money saved from my jobs cleaning stalls at local horse barns, which likely explains why I never took much of a cotton to horses! The World Wide Web tells me that in today’s money I would have spent nearly $3000 for that car!
The Bug was likely in pretty good shape when John got it. It ran well, the interior was nice, and he had just completed minor body work. John invited me to pick out the color so I went to the auto parts store and picked out the loudest, brightest green my eyes could handle. Think “Bright Green”, “Neon Green”, “Hurt-Your Eyes, Green”, then wear sunglasses!
It was a chick-magnet! (Well, in my head.) The only problem was that since I was only 15 I had to allow my sister, June, to drive me everywhere…which, obviously, wasn’t something the chicks were really “magnetized” to. That stung! It’s the sort of “sting” that my therapist said I should get over.
The Bug started my long love affair with cars, and at one point I was actually pretty good at working on them, even restoring a ’69 Corvette and a ’67 Mustang convertible. I had a long succession of cars over the years…a ’57 Chevy, ’64 Impala, ’68 Javelin, ’63 MG-B, ’73 Z-28, two Corvettes, a ’46 Chevy, ’48 Ford flatty, and various others. I had gotten to the point that I was willing to take on most anything that could be given to me. Over the years, however, I got out of cars and into woodwork, and I’m embarrassed to say how much I’ve forgotten.
So, back to the topic: I’m irritated that my little car doesn’t run well. The real irritation is that I know what the problem is…I just don’t know how to fix it. Actually, I sort of know how to fix it, but my confidence isn’t what it used to be.
The issue is that the carburetors are running “rich” (too much fuel in the fuel/air ratio). Too much fuel and the engine bogs down, the spark plugs get dirty, and car labors (and occasionally belches smoke). On the other hand, if the carburetors are running too “lean” (not enough fuel in the fuel/air ratio) it can hurt the engine and burn up pieces. What I need to do is learn how to balance the carburetors to allow me to hum along with the top down and the wind whipping through my hair!
But that’s the issue, isn’t it? It’s always about balance.
Sometimes I’m clueless about my lack of balance until someone points it out to me. Other times I see it but choose to ignore it until things get worse (which they always do if unattended). Sometimes I have no idea how to regain balance in my life. Other times I’m so overwhelmed by the imbalance in life that I just give up. And sometimes I have just lost my confidence. Balance, whether carburetors or in life, is always the key.
I bought a service manual for my MG. It’s pretty cursory, but it shows me some things. I have to admit, however, that I’m better when someone shows me the way rather than just reading it in a book.
When I’m out of balance in my life I turn to the Bible: another service manual. I see that Jesus found balance through submission to you, serving others, going to the hills to pray, teaching and listening, healing the world around him when he was able, speaking kindly, taking time to worship, and sacrificing for others…even when he knew it would be one-sided.
So, Lord, help me to choose action to find balance in my life, and inspire me to get off my car seat to do the work I need to do to hold on to that most significant of gifts. Along the way, if you could get someone to show me how to synch my carburetors I’d appreciate it.
As always, thanks for listening. I love you, Dan

Pastoral Ponderings May 2016

Pastoral Ponderings . . .

Dear God,

Who created time?

Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? But those are the type of questions that go through a preacher’s mind all the (if you’ll excuse the obvious) time.

I know you made the heavens and formed the shape of our planet which we call earth and Earth. I know you set the sun and moon in the sky and threw a million, million stars into the heavens…many of them exist as entire solar systems of their own. I know the stars cast light from so far away that even if they were to die out and go dark their light would pulse through “light years” to meet my eyes before its light dims to me. The sun “rises and sets,” even though I know it’s the Earth that’s turning. Every new day begins with the sun “rising,” as always, from the east…never from a different direction (that would be confusing) and we gather silently on the beach or pause when we’re doing something just to watch the sun “set” and “fall” into the horizon.

But who created time…the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years which define nearly every aspect of our lives? Whoever developed our “clocks” was either brilliant or a sadist.

Time flies. Time drags. Time is a friend. Time is an enemy. But time itself is value-free.

Time changes with our age or circumstances, and it can change throughout the day itself. It is a constant that seems never to be constant. When I’m at the gym on the rowing machine I tell myself, “Only two more minutes.” Those two minutes can fly by when I’m feeling good or seem like an eternity when I’m not so energized. Sometimes they are too much for me and I quit before the two minutes are actually up (thought I had to admit that to you). I tell myself, “You can do anything for two minutes!” but sometimes that’s not true.

When love is new time flies when lovers get together but seems to drag until the next opportunity to hold hands. Texting has perverted that because it’s become common place to begin texting as soon as we part and until we meet again…linking that time of separation which is intended to allow us to miss a person and consider the relationship. When love dies time slows to an agonizing crawl as the love once exciting has extinguished. Unlike the stars in the heaven the light fades quickly. That’s grief.

We wish for more time, ask for time to hurry along, think ahead to times that will come, think back to times past, dread the future, wish that we lived in another time, recall memories of times which bring us warmth and peace, and remember times which were awful…grateful that we got through them.

So what’s this all about? Why am I thinking about this with you?

It’s because I’m struck with my own ability to be content in this day. I’m not like that everyday, and I’ve gotten better at living contently just “One day at a time.” But I see that I can still get caught up in looking forward or backward and can become frustrated, remorseful, or disillusioned.

I was thinking of this when I read from the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 6:24-34) during a funeral recently. The writer says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” I’m intrigued that it focuses on “trouble” and “worry” instead of “anticipation” and “joy”. Perhaps it’s because you knew that we can too often spend our entire lives in worrying about our troubles or pains. After all, worry is never about too much good stuff…it’s always the anticipation of bad stuff.

And so, when you gave thoughts and motivation to the writer of Matthew you reminded the world that all we have is this moment…tomorrow is a dream…yesterday is a memory…both of which sustain and move us. But this day, this hour, this moment is what you have given us. That means that it’s up to me to enjoy the breath you gave to me, to feel my heart beating, to enjoy the loves and friendships which sustain me, and to be aware that you are as close to me as breath itself.

In this I can feel contentment and peace even when the world swirls around me.

So, Lord, help me take the time (I couldn’t resist) to thank you for this moment. I love you,

Dan

Pastoral Ponderings…April 2016

Pastoral Ponderings . . .

Dear God,

My sister, Patti, just sent me a great article from the New York Times entitled, “God is a Question, Not an Answer”, written by William Erwin. The title is a bit misleading, so bear with me.

My little sister’s never sent me anything like this before, and since she doesn’t identify as a Christian or any other religious faith I was intrigued with her e-mail. She’s too peace filled to ever send me anything hostile to my faith or Christianity so I really wondered where the article might lead.

What the article spoke of was the reality that we can’t point to you or touch you with the words and say, “There he is!” I can look out at the shrubs and stone fence from my office window and know they are physically “real.” but both belief or non-belief are simply a matter of faith since (as the article said) we can’t “prove” either way. With that in mind, the article questioned, why do people argue over God? They say “there are no atheists in the foxholes”, but it’s also safe to say “nobody in a foxhole doesn’t wonder where you are or why bombs are dropping around them!”

I’ve had many times when I’m sitting in the “foxholes” of life with people and feel the chaos and confusion of their lives, but I’m not one to give “canned” statements of faith when life is full of suffering. I have to admit that at times I feel like a fraud when my role tells me to speak confidently while my own soul is screaming in confusion and anger, and you know I’ve had many times when I’ve considered leaving the ministry when my own confusion overwhelms me.

Interestingly, at those times I have fallen back to the experiences and strength of my mother and her faith as I again find the foundation of hope which she stood on. I listed some of these things for my sister when I wrote her the following:

Dear Patti, I loved the article. It got me wondering what foundation I stand on for my own faith in God, and I realized much of it came from Mom’s examples in her faith, some of which include:

  • Groaning because we had to go to catechism classes on Saturday morning rather than getting to stay home and watch cartoons;
  • Polished shoes laid out every Saturday night…no tennis shoes then;
  • Davey & Goliath every Sunday morning with the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”;
  • Mom leaving work early to pick us up from three different schools for Holy Day Mass;
  • Our priest, Fr. Whelan: his reassuring and gentle smile, warm voice, and his example of faith;
  • Being an altar boy in the Latin Mass, and Fr. Whelan slipping us a Five at Christmas; Incense in church and kneeling at the communion rail; genuflecting before God;
  • The Crucifix, not just an empty cross, above Mom & Dad’s headboard and the Guardian Angel picture above our own beds;
  •  Our childhood church, St. Catherine’s, with the elaborate altar and frescos on the ceiling;
  •  All of us kids kneeling on either side of Mom…separated by who was fighting with whom;
  •  Kneeling in the front room as a family to pray the Rosary.

But the most significant thing was my early understanding that in the midst of what may have looked like simply habit and tradition Mom found strength in the midst of chaos…and there was plenty of chaos. I know that at times she felt the dark pull of hopelessness with Dad’s sickness, yet she radiated joy and didn’t pass that hopelessness off to us kids. Somehow, in the foxholes of life Mom’s joy and strength from her faith: the foundation of which she offered to us kids.

Those are the things I wrote my sister, Lord. What I realized is that I have a gift which I don’t have to push on to others. I can share it with people, but there’s no need to force them to comply with my understanding of you in my life.

I’m grateful for the gifts my mother shared with us…but especially the gift of seeing you everywhere, even when you are not “seen” with my eyes.

As always, thanks for listening. I love you.

Dan

Pastoral Ponderings…March 2016

Dear God,

“Come on in. Make yourself comfortable.”

Those are some of the most significant words in my lexicon. Other include, “Can I take your coat?”, “Don’t worry about your shoes.”, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” (Since it’s assumed that all God-fearing people like coffee: black, no cream, strong.), and finally, “Plain or peanut M&M’s?” (Which reflects our awareness of consuming a well-rounded diet which includes the 6 Food Groups: Fruit, Vegetables, Grains, Proteins, Dairy, and M&M’s.)

At my childhood home “Make yourself comfortable” always meant the kitchen. Our farmhouse kitchen was fairly large (there were six of us kids), and the centerpiece of the kitchen was the yellow formica-topped table with chrome legs and the eight matching chrome-legged chairs. Mom had recovered the chairs several times with new, yellow fabric covered by clear, shiny plastic in an attempt to make them easier to clean and last longer. Both goals met with with limited success.

The “front room” was television, wrestling matches among us cousins, a big meal, or a Packer game. All of our furniture was worn…except for the kitchen chairs mom kept re-covering.

The coffee pot was always brewing on the stove. After all, what’s an invitation without coffee? It was one of those tin pots with the clear glass ball on top, later replaced by the electric percolators: first a pale-green percolator followed by an odd reddish colored pot. I liked the coffee from the stove better and always thought the percolators tasted sort of “tinny”. With our first “Mr. Coffee” we seemed to step into a new millenium, but I always liked the coffee from the pot on the stove the best.

Making yourself comfortable” was the one thing I always felt characterized my childhood home. Jimmy Larson’s parent’s home was always formal and clean. Lester Smith’s was always a little too comfortable and smelled of hogs. Randy Erhlich’s parents both smoked and the house reeked of cigarettes. I’m sure they all felt homey to the family, but I liked ours the best.

As a pastor there are few better words to hear than when guests or new people tell me they were greeted warmly, made to feel welcome, and felt comfortable in church. It’s even better when that comfort is followed by words such as, “I was comforted”, “I felt God’s presence”, or “It was just what I needed.” Still, an invitation to church often includes, “It’s really a comfortable church!”

But that comfort can be the kiss of death for the life and energy of a congregation. Ironic, isn’t it…

that the very thing we cherish the most can be the thing that holds us back. The problem is that we get comfortable simply attending church when we feel like it rather than considering what you call us to do to make the church more effective, faithful, and intriguing.

I saw a four-box church cartoon a few years ago. The first had the committee chair asking, “Does anybody have any New Business?” A man raised his hand and said “We have a problem in church because there’s really a lull in volunteers in lately.” The third box had all the members looking at him with a blank gaze and no comment. The final box had the chair asking, “Do I have a motion to

adjourn?” Everyone had gotten comfortable and nobody wanted to address the obvious.

I feel as if we’ve become a little too comfortable in church lately with the same people doing all the work and many of us just showing up for Sunday and then leaving. We have committee positions that need energy, Sunday School teachers, a co-chair for a new church directory, people to add their committed voices to the choir or bell choir, and many other small jobs. It feels as if there’s a general sense that attending is enough.

Every church falls into a lull, but not every church recovers. Many just get comfortable being comfortable. To recover from the lull every member has to challenge themselves to a greater level or participation. If we don’t challenge our activity in church we move from being comfortable to becoming complacent. Maybe you can help us to walk that fine line between being comfortable and becoming complacent.

As always, thanks for listening. I love you,

Dan

Pastoral Ponderings…January/February 2016

Dear God,

Stories are life. In funerals one of the most significant things is to tell stories. Here’s one of mine.

You remember my friend, Claire Hanson, the mother of my old girlfriend, Jeremy? Claire put me through college so I could become a minister. Her only expectation…that I be a good minister. She’s stood in your presence for years now, but I always pray that she is happy with her investment.

I started dating Jeremy, when I was in high school. She broke up with me in my freshman year of college to date my best friend, Mark. Therein lies this comical story.

Mark, Jeremy, and I decided to meet in La Crosse, WI, for Oktoberfest in 1974.   Mark drove his little Honda 360 motorcycle the 180 miles from Oconomowoc, WI, and Jeremy drove the 111 miles from Stevens Point, WI, in a non-descriptive and often unreliable “college car”. I, on the other hand, decided to thumb the 110 miles from Menomonie, WI.

I’d never hitch hiked before but it was perfect Fall weather and I was lucky to not have to walk too many miles over the entire trip. Thumbing in Minnesota a van pulled over with two guys heading to Oktoberfest themselves. What luck! When they opened the side door the pungent odor of marijuana rolled over me (don’t worry, I didn’t inhale) and I climbed in and sat next to their cooler of beer. It turns out that they were both dentists from Minneapolis who made this their annual “Las Vegas trip”. I was in heaven, but remember, I didn’t inhale!

Over the weekend Jeremy decided she should date Mark who, as it might be noted, was always water skiing and, therefore, tanned, and had long, blond hair compared to my already balding head. OK, so this was all getting a bit weird. She chose a blond-haired version of me: bubbling personality, accomplished, congenial, intelligent, funny, and humble. Go figure, that hair meant that much!

The story gets better. Mark was scheduled to drive me the 110 miles back to Menomonie on his motorcycle…and it decided to start snowing…significantly! It should be noted that a Honda 360 is not intended to take two guys and their gear on long trips. I ended up riding for two hours with my arms around the waist of the guy whom my now ex-girlfriend had just dumped me for…in a blowing snowstorm on a motorcycle with only a windbreaker (remember, it was nice when I left). Jeremy eventually broke up with Mark who still water skies but has lost his shaggy hair. Justice!

That’s one of the stories in life I’ve collected. Can you see why I love stories?

Anyway, back to Jeremy’s mother, Claire. She always said I was the son she never had, (obviously her standards could have been higher), and she treated me as such. She would lovingly encourage me and chew me out with the same words as my own mother would: “Now, Daniel Joseph Herman, do you think that was the smartest thing to do?” (I always loved that question because the answer was so obvious: “No”.) Claire and my mother grew to be the very closest of friends over the years. In retrospect their friendship may have been built on the common bond of exasperation in raising me.

Clair would often tell me, “You are blessed with the gift of gab”, which is something no teenage boy wants to hear. Little did I know how important that gift would be in my life and ministry, but I’ve found this to be especially true around funerals. Because of this “gift” I can talk with people quite easily and they share with me their stories and the stories of their loved ones.

Why do I mention all of this? Because in funerals two things are important. First, people need to hear the reassurance that you will always carry them through the valley of the shadow of death. Second, people need to hear stories of their loved ones life. We remember stories. They can move us to tears, laughter, sadness, and love. These are the stories which are most precious to them: precious enough to share with a stranger and want to be remembered in a funeral service.

Sometimes I forget that I’m creating new stories every day. But when I die I want people to tell many of the stories of my life…the funny and the sad…while always seeing that you have been with me in every breath and step I take. Thank you for walking alongside of me in the stories I’ve made in you.

As always, thanks for listening. I wouldn’t recommend Oktoberfest or a Honda 360!

Dan

Pastoral Ponderings December 2015

Pastoral Ponderings . . .

Dear God,

As I write this I stand just a few days after Thanksgiving and a month away from Christmas. That can’t be possible! That means that another entire year of my life has been spent.

That seems like a rather obvious thing…another year of life having gone by as we zero-in on December 31st. But what I was really thinking about was the word “Spent”. You have given me an entire year of life and I have spent it once again. So the obvious question you would ask me…just as any parent would ask their children…is, “How did you spend what I gave you?”

As of October 29th you have given to me 60 years of life. Some people get freaked out by “turning 60”, as if the alternative was to get turned into a pumpkin. If there’s a choice between being a pumpkin or getting older, I’ll choose the latter. I mean, I like pumpkin and all, but…they have seeds and despite what some people say, I’m not a “seedy” character.

The idea of how we spent the years of life was highlighted when a friend sent me a movie clip from my wayward days in 1980. That was a hoot to watch, but I don’t think I’ll show it to a lot of church friends. The short clip was when a group of us were all taking our sports cars to Elkhart Lake, WI, to take in the experience of the famed “June Sprints”.

You don’t just watch the Sprints…you take them in. The June Sprints were, at one time, held in the streets and local highways in and around Elkhart Lake. You can only imagine cars racing through town at speeds in excess of 100 mph. That style of road racing changed in 1952 after a tragic accident and death of a spectator. Tracks were developed and the track in Elkhart Lake is a premier venue.

With the anticipation of taking in the races, my friends and I assembled our cars. We made a caravan, which included my Triumph GT-6, Triumph Spitfire, a couple of MG’s, me in my Corvette, and a van to carry our gear. We had a great weekend, sleeping under the stars at night and watching racing all day. The clip itself reminded me of all the great friends and good times I enjoyed in that time of my life. But as I write this I am also reminded of how I “spent” a few years of my life. Let’s just keep it between us about how much fun I had.

I love the idea of questioning how I spent what you’ve given me. Maybe I’m the odd man out, but I take this notion seriously. Taking the opportunity to look at how we “spend” what you give us should always be a part of the process of life as a Christian. That’s what’s at the core of my conversations with people about stewardship. Stewardship is always the endeavor to be faithful with what has been loaned to us. I might “make money” at my job, but you gave to me the gifts to help people, a family which taught me the values of sharing and hard work, and a thirst to understand your presence in my life.

The bottom line of all of this is how I “spend” what you’ve given to me.

I wasn’t born a good spender. Like most children, money would burn a hole in my pocket. I wasn’t prone to saving for something down the road…there was always something much closer to spend my money on in the radar of life. I had to learn how to spend and what was really of value to my life.

Which brings me back to my 60 years of living. While some people complain about growing older (and let me be clear…I’m not that fond of all the changes of getting older!), I choose to give thanks for giving me the years to “develop better spending habits”. I loved my earlier years of life, and I had lots of fond memories…many of them made with the friends that I enjoyed from our trip to Elkart Lake…but I’m glad I didn’t get stuck in those spending habits.

I’ve always been generous with my time and gifts to others, but you’ve given me the years to grow and develop. You helped me choose to be with people who challenge, nurture, and encourage me. You helped me to understand your presence in me. I hope I spend my remaining years in a manner which would show the world how I choose to “spend” my life.

Thank you for giving to me the years behind me, and guide me in the days and years ahead.

As always, thanks for listening. I love you,

Dan