Pastoral Ponderings . . . July 2018

 

Dear God,

     I will die one day.

That is the fundamental reality of life. Well actually, there are two fundamental realities of life: we all suffer and we will all die. (Well actually, there are three fundamental realities of life: the Packers will generally always beat the Bears…but we’ll set that aside for now.)

It all sounds like a macabre thing to talk about, but it’s the truth so I might as well throw it out there to you to let you know I’m OK with it. I don’t like the idea of it, but I’m OK with it.

I might also say that I’ve become OK with it because I’ve been around so much of is. I do a lot of funeral services. I guess you’ve given me a knack or gift for walking into a situation of emotional crisis and allowing me to connect with people. While in Brodhead at my last church the funeral director called to say a pastor wouldn’t to the funeral service for a member of his church because he hadn’t been to church in a long time. I remember the funeral director saying, “The dead have to be buried and deserve a good funeral.”

I’ve always taken Danny Newcomer’s words to heart. Everyone does deserve a good funeral service, so I do my best for friend and stranger alike. While I’m not sure how many people I’ve buried over the 37-years I’ve been a pastor. I don’t have the books for my early church, but I looked up and see that I’ve have done 286 funerals since I’ve been here in Rockton, or about 20 per year.

That’s a lot of people, and a lot of people with many different life stories, and every conceivable age. I know that I’ve done funeral services from people from miscarriages to 101 years of age. So in all of these I can say that yes, I’ve given a lot of thought to the two realities of life: suffering and death (and the fact that the Packers will generally beat the bears).

I’ve tried many times to consider the death of myself and my family. Again, it sounds macabre, but when I’m calling on people who have lost their children or spouse I have to understand what that must feel like. I can’t have a fake empathy…I have to try to understand what that experience would be so I can minister to them. I know. It sounds crazy, but it allows me to be more than a stick-figure walking in to do a job.

So, what’s the context of my rather macabre topic? I think it’s because I’ve had some instances where people have worried about things way beyond their control…not unreasonably (I’d worry about things too), but simply out of their control. And the number one thing people have been telling me is about their fear of death.

The scripture recommended for July 8th is from Matthew 6:24-34: “Therefore do not worry about your life, and such little things as what you will eat or what you will wear….So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of it’s own. Today;s trouble is enough for today.”

     What I see Jesus talking about in those words is is confidence: confidence in the face of both life an death. Confidence that in good times and difficult times you do not leave us. Those words are easy to say when things are good and running on all cylinders, but those same words sound hollow or even mocking when life seems to turn on us and leave us wondering where you are.

In these times I’ve tried to remember the following: that if I am confident that you will hold me in the final mystery of life, my time of death, I can be confident that you will hold me when the events of life seem to turn against me. That’s why I want to get comfortable with the reality of death…because I want to be confident in the realities of suffering in this life.

In a big way, this comfort frees me from worry and anxiety in my daily life and allows me to meet every moment with confidence and joy. I am free to fully live because I know when I die I will be fully taken care of.

As always, thank you for listening to my ramblings. I believe and trust in your presence and power in my life, my Creator and my Redeemer.

Love, Dan

Pastoral Ponderings . . . June 2018

Dear God,

     “We’re here…”

A few years ago Tom Bodett, in his colloquial manner, put a phrase into our culture that continues to this day: “I’m Tom Bodett from Motel 6. We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya.”

I doubt even Motel 6 knew what an impact this phrase would make. “We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya.” were words spoken with the confidence that no matter where a person might end up there’s a warm bed, a welcoming smile, and a good night’s rest ahead at a Motel 6. For all I know Tom Bodett never spent a night in a Motel 6 but I certainly wanted to go after hearing him!

His words, “We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya” echoed in my head when I was working with a few members of our church last week with ideas on church growth. Bill Midgett commented that we need to let our community know we’re here. The words that resounded in my ears, just like “We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya” were “We’re here…”

 

That’s the message of the Christian Church and this congregation:

“We’re here…” when you’re lonely.

“We’re here…” when you celebrate the birth of a child.

“We’re here…” when you’re struggling with a divorce.

“We’re here…” if you want to learn the stories of Jesus.

“We’re here…” when you are overwhelmed with the questions of life.

“We’re here…” because baptism is free and open to anyone.

“We’re here…” if you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

“We’re here…” when you need a sanctuary from the noise of life.

“We’re here…” because communion is a free gift from God.

            “We’re here…” if you want a community of friends to support you.

 

Then I started thinking, Lord, of all the times when I heard the church say, “We’re here…” to me:

When my mom took us to church every Sunday as children;

When my dad had his stroke and our priest came to the house;

When I was confused as a teenager and I went to church to find peace;

When I felt your call to ministry and the church affirmed it;

When my dad died and my new church moved in to serve the lunch at our farm;

When the churches I served encouraged me as their pastor, despite my mistakes;

And when I needed to remember the priority of the lessons of peace and service from Jesus.

 

In every one of those instances and countless others I heard the church say, “We’re here…”, and my entire life has been changed as a result. When people tell me, “I don’t have to be in church to believe in God”, or, “Being outside is my church” they are missing the reality of the importance of a community of faith which sustains us with the simple words, “We’re here…”

     The question now becomes how does every member of our congregation let people in our community understand the power of the relationship they can have with our congregation which is called together under the power of your Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus. In a big sense, “We’ll keep the light on for ‘ya” is the theme of the church. The light in our window. The light of God’s love. The light of a congregation that will care for and love them. The light of the enduring Christian faith. That’s every member’s job: to let our community know “We’re here for them.”

As always, thanks for listening. I think I just heard the Fat Cat saying “We’re here” for you. It’s time for lunch! I love you,                                                                              Dan

 

Pastoral Ponderings May 2018

 

Dear Lord,

Let’s go back to last month when I wrote about my stereo system.

I talked with you about my musical time travel through my college days. I shared with you (as if you didn’t already know) the story of my stereo-typical (if I can use a pun) evolution of musical equipment in college. As you remember I told you that when I got to college I realized, with horror, that I had everything except something to play my very few records on. The transition was from a small one-piece stereo to a full compliment of audio equipment. The designations speak for themselves: a small “one-piece stereo” to “audio equipment”.

You can remember the type of stereo I started with: a Panasonic record player/radio with speakers that detached from the unit. It had the smoked plexiglass cover familiar to the day. I thought I was big stuff. But then I became an “audiophile”, always seeking more and more clarity in music. Now, as I mentioned last month, I have two complete stereo systems with designated functions: an amp, tuner, double-cassette deck, a CD player, a turntable (the record player part), two towering Polk Audio speakers, and two Aztec speakers (which are about the size of a suitcase and as heavy as a mini-van).

You have to understand that I wasn’t talking about the equipment itself, it was my pursuit to listen to music with the greatest clarity that I was referring to. One of my audio-geek friends actually developed a small recording studio in his home complete with 6′ speakers that were as thin as a medium sized book. It was amazing. When listening to those professional speakers it was if you could reach in and actually touch the music itself.

But after I wrote to you last month a friend of mine said he had recently gone back to listening to vinyl records and away from music on his I-Pod, Alexa, and other electronic devices. (You’ll notice that we don’t even call these things stereo equipment anymore.) Instead, he said he sits back and listens to his favorite music on imperfect records where there may always be the slightest bit of background noise and imperfection.

When I asked him about it he said it’s because some of life’s greatest moments come not in the perfection of something, but in understanding and appreciating the imperfections which surround us.

I just had lunch with meteorologist Kristen Cwyner from WTVO television in Rockford. I was fortunate enough to officiate at the marriage of Kristen and her husband John. Interestingly, I’d never met nor known a meteorologist in my life…now I know two. Kristen came up to have lunch with me and we met at the Fat Cat Cafe just on the north edge of town on Blackhawk Blvd. (Just in case you need a place to meet for lunch, Lord, check it out…and ask for the cupcake menu!)

While we were enjoying lunch at the Fat Cat we talked about her life with her Navy husband who is currently deployed for 6 months. She was commenting with a familiar phrase, “In a perfect world…” that some things might be easier about being a military family. I told her that “In a perfect world” I would look and sing like Alan Jackson. Instead I look and sing more like Willie Nelson.

But as we talked about it we decided that the everyday beauty and significance in life is in the imperfections. It’s taking the time on a rainy day to have a cup of coffee with a friend. It’s about using the imperfect gifts we have to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s learning that it is our weaknesses and imperfections which push us to have to have to learn to rely on one another. It’s the fact that compassion only comes when we see the imperfections in others as a part of our own imperfection. And it’s allowing our weaknesses to help us not to become arrogant and gain compassion for others. Imperfections should be celebrated, not cursed!

Listening to life through sterile six-foot stereo speakers is great, but real life finds its beauty in understanding, appreciating, and even celebrating the imperfections in ourselves and others.

With that in mind, please help me to appreciate my own imperfections and not judge others for theirs. Help me to become loving, as Jesus taught me.

As always, I love you. Thanks for listening. I think I’ll dig out my old stereo.

Dan

Pastoral Ponderings…April 2018

Dear God,

I just got my turntable repaired. There’s a word you don’t hear anymore: turntable.

When I left for college I grabbed a duffel bag of clothes and hopped in my ’68 American Motors Javelin with the 290 cubic inch 4-speed. When I got to school I realized I was missing one important item: tunes. Eventually through work-study jobs I was able to become the proud owner of a one-piece stereo. I had it made: a great car, a stereo, and enough money for an occasional Big Mac.

But the fine audio era was coming into vogue by my junior year. The cheap all-in-one stereo I had sounded just like that: a cheap, all-in-one stereo. The new emphasis was on clarity of sound and I loved what some of my friends had. I was hooked. I started out by buying an amplifier and tuner (i.e., “radio”) and two 36” free standing Polk Audio speakers with amazing clarity. It was all pretty pricy stuff, so it took a bit to save the money. After that I got a turn-table followed by a twin cassette deck. Eventually (and because CDs were now used rather than cassette tapes) I picked up a CD player. All the equipment was high-end Yamaha equipment but it was worth the scrimping. I was set!

And what goes along with all of that? Records…lots of them! Then cassettes…lots of them! And then CDs…lots of them! I not only had a lot of money in my audio equipment, but in the music itself. And so then what happened…? Everything went digital. Now with rows of records, cassettes, and CDs I found out nothing was necessary except a device the size of a small flip paper notepad and a 3” speaker that would blow the doors off my 36” Polk Audio speakers. I’ve officiated at outdoor weddings where a guy had a small cylindrical unit the size of a salami that he set his iPhone into that provided music for the entire area. Amazing!

So, you may ask, what am I doing with all the stereo equipment? Mostly nothing. Most of it hasn’t been used in years. HOWEVER, I recently decided to get my turntable fixed so I could listen to some records and dig out my old Supertramp (the best band ever!), Steely Dan, and Cat Stevens records. It’s almost always true…if you hang on to something long enough it will come back into style (with the exception of Ford Pintos).

I was a little taken aback a few years ago when Brianna told me that she used some of her hard-earned money and bought a record player when she was attending Boston College. I was frustrated that she would spend her money on something like a record play…until I remembered a kid in college who decided he would buy his own electronics to hear the best of vinyl records. Man, I sure have a short memory at times!

So why do I bring all this up? Well, because it’s all about listening with clarity to truth.

The world around me is filled with loud noises and people who make loud noises. It’s become unkind in so many ways, and people have forgotten how to live with, disagree with, and talk with one another. Despite the best communication equipment in the world, equipment that blows the doors off my prized Yamaha components, we’ve lost our desire to hear with clarity the words that come at us that can move us to be the kind of people you would desire us to be.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said Make America Kind Again, and I remember my good friend at the wedding for her grandson when she was asked the secret to marriage. Her response was simply, “Be kind to one another.” Her words didn’t require expensive equipment in order to hear the clarity and truth within them.

As I thought of all my equipment (which Bri and I are blowing the mothballs off of) I am aware that nothing will help me hear with more clarity than the important words you’ve given to us through scripture: Jesus, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, faith, and grace. In this season of resurrection and new life I would ask that you help me understand Easter as a time to listen to you with greater clarity and to listen to others with the ears of kindness.

Thanks for listening. I love you. By the way, do you like Supertramp?

Dan

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