Friday, November 12, 2010

The Unbucket List

The Unbucket List
I attended a death conference recently at Akron Children’s Hospital. I decided to go because after an absence of many months death had come back to the church that I serve. After performing too many funerals in too few weeks, I wanted an opportunity to reflect on what I was doing before I had to sit down and compose yet another eulogy. It wasn’t called a death conference, of course, but instead was called “Befriending the Dying on Their Sacred Journey.” I was there with palliative care nurses, doctors, social workers, and a few clergy. You might think that the event would have been depressing or morbid, but instead it was uplifting and life-affirming. You can’t imagine how upbeat that hospice care workers can be.
The main presenter was a nun, Sister Mary Assumpta, and you know how much fun nuns can be. She wore the traditional habit of her order, and I kept thinking that a strong wind would lift her up into the air like the Flying Nun (I know it’s a reference showing my age, but deal with it). It sounds like a cliché to say that her remarks were deep and profound, but they were for me. She understands dying and living in a way that I hope to do so someday. I have thought of her comments and other parts of that conference many times in the past days. And I am sure that I will think of them tomorrow when I attend yet one more funeral – for the death of our longtime neighbor Joe Kelley.
One of the things that Sister Mary counseled all of us to do – those of us who know we will die someday and those of us still in denial – was to put together a Bucket List of things we want to do before we die to help us plan for and prioritize the days that we do have. One of the things on my list was to see a tearjerker movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman so that’s one thing that I can cross off.
Now I am not against making a Bucket List, but my thoughts on it are similar to those of Jonathon Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of Running Times magazine. Beverly wrote in a recent issue: “Many life-best experiences lack the obvious pizzazz to make a bucket list. If we focus too much on experiences ‘before we die’ we may miss the true joys of the days of that life.” Bluto Blutarsky once said something like this: “This can be the best day of your life.” Isn’t it true that sometimes the greatest experiences we have are not those we planned for or prepared for but were those we were open to when they came along? They would not have appeared on our list alongside things like climb Mt. Everest, run the Boston Marathon, attend a victory parade for the Super Bowl champion Cleveland Browns, hear Jim Bane preach, and so on, but we wouldn’t have missed them for the world.
If you had asked me to compose a Bucket List at the age of 18 or 21 or even 25, becoming a father would not have appeared on that list. I wasn’t against it, but I would not have thought that it would have been something that I had to do before my life was complete. I doubt that becoming a father would appear on the Bucket List of very many men, yet I cannot imagine living my life without the incredible experiences (and even the mundane days) of fatherhood. I’ll take being a husband and a father over any other thing that I could ever list on things I had to do before I died.
I have lost a lot of weight in the past year, and a number of people in our church have expressed concern about my health. One man asked me last week for the name of my doctor so that he would make sure never to be his patient since my weight loss obviously indicates substandard medical care. And the truth is, of course, that every day I get that much closer to the ultimate demise and failure of my body. But then so does everyone else. Even you.
If you have made a Bucket List and are diligently pursuing everything on it, then I salute you. But I would suggest composing an additional list which I am calling the Unbucket List. The Unbucket List would be those things that you want to make sure that you never do (or never do again) because they take up too much of the remaining hours that you have. For example, your Unbucket List might have things on it like this: Thinking about Sara Palin, Watching political commercials, Waiting in line for more than 15 minutes, Being angry about waiting in line for more than 15 minutes, Holding a grudge, Being held captive by guilt, Worrying about what anyone else thinks of you, Trying to earn God’s love which is already guaranteed, and so on. If we spend too much of our time on those kinds of things, we’ll never have a moment for the stuff that really counts, even those surprisingly deep events that occur when we least expect it.
What is on your Unbucket List?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Are You Making Your Mark or Making a Stain?

Are you making your mark or making a stain? I thought of this question as I walked our dogs, Captain and Icarus, through the woods behind our house today. Captain and Icarus aren’t big dogs – they are pugs after all – but when they get into those outdoor settings they are determined to let the whole world know that they have been there. They try to mark as many trees and bushes and plants as they can. I am astonished at the number of locations where those pugs can leave their scent. Sometimes they both choose to mark the same spot, but other times they decide on separate locations. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other as long as what they do happens outside our house. When it happens inside, it is a mess that needs to be cleaned up. It is no longer making a mark but making a stain. And just so Captain is not offended, I need to clarify that Icarus is the one who occasionally makes the inside mistake.
Our wise neighbor Susan was walking by our house with her dog Fletcher awhile ago, and we got into a conversation comparing people with dogs. She was the one who put the idea into my head that some people make their mark in life while other people just end up making a stain. It might sound like a crass analogy, but isn’t it true that some folks (often men) just seem to spend their time trying to leave their scent on everything? In fact, now and again two men are like Captain and Icarus each trying to make their mark on the same spot. There is even a saying for that which I won’t share here.
How do you know if you are making your mark or just making a stain? I think that if you are making your mark you are not just leaving your smell on something, but that you are putting down a marker – much like the Inukshuk stone statues that the Inuits used to leave. This signpost you leave is not a statue to your accomplishment but is a pointer for others that helps provide guidance for them as they walk the way behind you. Your example gives them hope and encouragement in their own life’s journey. When you make a mark, it is a gift to the whole community. Making a stain, on the other hand, is a selfish act that provides nothing of value to anyone else. It is your way to say, “I was here,” but it does not offer hope or encouragement that benefits others. And when you make a stain, people either have to clean it up or try to avoid stepping in it because no one wants your smell on them.
Most of us have goals, dreams, and hopes for our lives. Most of us hope to be remembered after we are gone. But will we be remembered for making a mark or making a stain? You can learn a lot from walking two pugs on a November afternoon. There is wisdom everywhere, isn’t there?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do You Deserve A Medal?

When was the last time that someone pinned a medal to your chest, placed a garland of victory flowers upon your head, or handed you a trophy while saying, “Congratulations. Well done. We were all cheering for you to succeed and you did it.” Did you score a goal unit to win the game, correctly spell some obscure word to claim the spelling bee crown, or close the big deal to keep the company afloat?
A fancy medal was draped over my head as I bowed to accept it last weekend at Canal Park in Akron, Ohio. The fact that thousands of others were receiving similar awards did nothing to diminish my sense of personal accomplishment. I had somehow managed to stumble my way into the stadium after completing 13.1 miles as part of the Road Runner Marathon. I participated in the ½ marathon, others were part of relay teams, while still others ran the full marathon of over 26 miles.
A few days before the race, I had shared with the “Faith and Fitness” group at our church that I had three major goals: 1) Finish the Race, 2) Not Get Injured, and 3) Not Be Last. Well, as Meatloaf once sang, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” I thought I had stretched adequately (doing everything I had always done before), but there was too much lag time between my major stretching at 5:30 am and the start time of the race at 7:00 am. I stretched, ran a little, and walked a lot as I waited for the race to begin, but it wasn’t enough.
Race day was a beautiful morning in Akron, Ohio, and the temperature was around 60 degrees. Since I had never been in an event of this size before (about 7,000 total runners), it was a rush for me. As we gathered on Broadway Avenue in the moments before the race began, there was a smile in my heart and on my face. I was thrilled to be there and was paying attention to all the details.
About four months before that morning and without a lot of contemplation, I had registered for the event online even though the farthest I had ever run in my life was 5 miles, and I had just done that a day or so before. I knew I had to train so I averaged between 25-30 miles a week all summer. This was more running than I had ever done in my life. I felt like Forrest Gump – I started running without a lot of forethought and just kept going. Unlike Forrest Gump, I trimmed my beard and did not attract a single follower. Over the summer, I had a number of runs over 14 miles so I knew I was capable of 13.1.
While those in front (the real athletes) left the starting line at 7am, it took about four minutes for those of us in my part of the pack to even get to that line and over a thousand runners were behind me. People rang cowbells, the Ellet Marching Band was playing, and hundreds of people held up signs of encouragement. After a short distance, we crossed the Y Street Bridge and saw the sun rising on our right. Awesome is the right kind of word to describe that sight. I was looking forward to a joyful morning of running.
About two miles into the race, I felt an ominous twinge in my left hamstring, and I knew that my whole day was about to change. If I had been at home, I would have stopped running altogether and immediately treated my leg. But I wasn’t at home, and I still had 11 miles to run.
Over the next couple of hours or so, the twinge would become “a whole lotta hurt.” Every few miles, I would stop and try some stretching, but the pain would never go away. It was just a matter of how much it hurt. I discovered that if I slowed down that the pain was manageable for awhile. But if I tripped or lost my footing (which I did more than once), it was as if a knife was thrust into the back of my leg. I still appreciated the weather and the encouraging groups that cheered us all on, but that inner and outer smile were no longer present. Hundreds of people glided by me, and I knew that my personal time goal was not possible. My one and only goal became getting to Canal Park alive.
I would love to tell you that in the last couple of miles as we ran on the Towpath and then towards the stadium that I was blessed with a rush of adrenaline that compensated for the piece of bone that was sticking out of my thigh. I would love to tell you that, but it would be BS. There was no bone ripping through my thigh, but neither was there adrenaline or even those wonderful things called endorphins. Just a man feeling a lot older than his 54 years trying to gut it out fifty yards at a time. If you had seen me in those last couple of miles, surely you would have pitied me and wondered what bet I had lost that would result in me running 13.1 miles without any training. You may have concluded that I had been mauled by a wild animal who had granted me a few more minutes of life before he ran me down and finished the job. You would not have described what you saw me doing as running, but, man, it was the best I could do.
So when I managed to haul that nonfunctioning left leg and the rest of my body into Canal Park, it was with a greater sense of achievement than I previously would have thought possible. The medal did not say “Champion” or “Runner-Up” or anything as lofty as that. It said simply “Finisher.” And I was finished in a number of different ways.
I began by asking a question about you: when was the last time you had received a medal – this was my thinly veiled attempt to express an interest in you before I began a long essay about myself. But isn’t it true that most of your accomplishments in life go uncelebrated and unheralded? Sure, if you are lucky, you get awards now and again for things that someone else says are important. But some days even getting out of bed and going in to face your boss and your co-workers takes everything you’ve got, doesn’t it? Some of you who are teachers know how much you have to suck it up even to walk in the classrooms some days. And what about the parent driving one more time to pick up their child at the police station? Or the preacher having the guts to enter the pulpit Sunday after Sunday doing what they can to share God’s word with a group of folks who won’t remember what is said an hour later? Or the person who shows up at a church for the first time hoping to hear a word of hope? Or the person coming forth and being public about their sexual orientation? Or the son or daughter going day after day to visit their Alzheimer parents at the nursing home? Or the single mother who works numerous low paying jobs just to fall a little more behind in their bills every month?
Does anyone know what it takes out of you to live your life? Does anyone suspect or appreciate the struggles that you take on every day? When your personal goals get derailed, who weeps with you and for you and helps you pick up the pieces? Who cheers for you to get through your day? What marching band plays to encourage you?
A few days ago I received a medal. It’s a nice medal, but it is nothing compared to what some people deserve for getting through just one day of their lives. My medal says, “Finisher.” What would your medal say?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dreaded Husky Section

A law recently passed in Ohio requires schools to determine a student's BMI (Body Mass Index) in the 3rd, 5th, and 9th grades. This is one requirement of the law entitled Ohio's Healthy Choices for Healthy Childen Act. I became aware of it because the local school district where I live is attempting to opt out of this BMI screening which determines whether a person is underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese. If you don't know your own BMI, a number of online programs are available which will tell you what you have probably already determined from looking in the mirror. It just provides a sobering number that will likely depress you.

This new law brought back memories of the public humiliations I endured as a grade school student. Every fall and every spring, all of the children would be herded together in the gym to have their weight and height measured, called out (not whispered) to a person who would be recording it, and then later written down in our report cards. My class had not been introduced to the concept of the Bell Curve, but every kid would have immediately understood it. You see the goal of every boy or girl in my class was to fall in the great middle section of weight or height. No one wanted to be at the ends because the tallest and the shortest, the heaviest and the thinnest, were mocked by the merely average kids. I remember a girl named Kim G. running out of the room crying as she was jeered for being tall. She looked like a model - tall and thin with long dark hair. Kim was taller than anyone else at least for awhile, but I always competed for the crown of fattest and tallest boy. I knew I was fat even without a BMI screening, but apparently the other kids in my class had no idea I was fat until my startling weight numbers were read aloud twice a year. Thank God for Dave T., a gentle giant of a kid who came to our class near the end of our grade school years. Dave was a great guy (and still is), and he will always have a special place in my heart. Dave was a chunk bigger than anyone else and easily claimed the #1 spot on that Bell Curve. There was no silver medal (or attention) for being the 2nd fattest or 2nd tallest kid, and I was able to step into Dave's shadow.

Concepts like self-esteem had not been invented in my childhood, but now and again a few euphemisms were used for fat. When my mother took us back to school shopping in the fall, we always entered the boy's section with hope, but after scrutiny by the female clerks which sometimes involved a tape measure we were almost always sent off to the dreaded Husky Section. You see, "Husky" was not a breed of dog, but it meant "You are too fat for the normal section, kid." There might have been a simple minded child who said, "I'm not fat, I'm Husky," but most of us knew who we were. In the Husky Section, a clerk would throw a tarp over you, cut out a place for your head to poke through, and then give you a piece of rope to use as a belt. It was a simple look that worked whether you lost weight or became more Husky (which meant obese).

I don't know if stores still have Husky Sections. These days they might be called the normal section. With huskiness on the rise in our grade schools, I probably would not be a contender for fattest kid in the class anymore.
I would love to say that since leaving the Husky Section in middle school that I have never gone back, but it wouldn't be true. Like a lot of you, I have had challenges with weight (translation: I have been overweight and obese). If you are battling with your weight, don't give up. There is always hope - over the past year I have reduced my weight and am now at what the BMI measurement would call "normal" or "healthy." Will I stay there? I would like to say "yes." I hope the answer is "yes." But weight that has been lost has a way of finding its way back home, doesn't it? Even if you think you have left it in the dreaded Husky Section.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dying in Amish Country

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral for an Amish man, the father of one of our members. I wasn't sure what to expect other than the fact that the funeral would be held at the home of the deceased. I gave myself extra time to get to the house - time that I needed because I had trouble finding the place due to the fact that the local newspaper had printed the incorrect address. I arrived about ten minutes before the service was to start - not in the house as I had expected but in the barn. A group of Amish men were standing outside the barn which looked to be packed with what I later estimated to be about 250 people. I was reluctant to seek a seat on the rows and rows of benches that looked almost completely filled. I wasn't sure of the protocol and did not want to offend anyone. I thought of first time visitors to local churches who just want to blend in and not cause any disturbance. I was prepared to stand outside for the service when one of the leaders of the event identified me as an outsider. Although I was wearing black and have a beard, apparently I wasn't blending in. He found a seat for me near the door. It was a seat I would sit in for the next two hours as three different preachers offered their interpretation of God's Word to the assembled mourners (the vast majority of whom were Amish). In those two hours, with the exception of a mother taking one of her children out of the barn, no one else moved an inch or spoke a word. On this hot July day with temperatures in the 90's, we just sat there and listened as each speaker preached mostly in English but sometimes in German. I later learned that a second funeral service preached entirely in German was being held in a tent on the grounds to accommodate another section of the large crowd.

After two hours had passed, each of us was given a chance to walk by the handcrafted wooden coffin. Approximately a half hour later, the coffin was loaded onto the back of a buggy for the man's final ride to the cemetary.

The whole experience was very powerful for me because it was unlike most of the rest of my life. It was not only low tech but no tech. The pace of their service was similar to the pace of the buggy which carried the coffin - unhurried yet purposeful. No one looked at their watches or checked their email, or texted one another. No one expected to be entertained by the proceedings or got up and left early after it went beyond one hour. There were no organs or pianos played let alone an electric guitar or drums. The service was clearly not designed to keep any short attention spans engaged. There were no media clips, PowerPoint slides, or "Three Keys for Dealing with Grief."

"I didn't get anything out of it," can be a common statement of criticism by dissatisfied worshippers. Most of us have heard or said those words ourselves. Most of us have probably felt that way. The Amish funeral experience caused me to look at worship from a different perspective. Maybe true worship is not about us getting anything at all. Maybe authentic worship is about God getting something out of us. Maybe worship is about God getting our time and our attention and our hearts and our minds. Maybe worship is not something that we consume as just one more bit of entertainment. Instead worship should consume us.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My First Time

In most churches regardless of denomination, love is in the air. In times like these, I naturally think back to my first time. It was many years ago, but I have never forgotten her. She was only 15 years old - so young that her parents had to agree to it. I'll call her Cindy because her name was Cindy. She came into my office and asked me to do something I had never done before, but I wanted to do it because I had heard so many other people talk about it. I'll admit it: I was nervous. It wasn't exactly what I expected. Afterwards I was a little bit depressed, but at least I could go to the next clergy meeting and not feel inadequate. I was ready to do it again. I knew I would get better at it with more practice.
Cindy was only 15 years old when I performed her wedding. She was just a kid, and so was her 18 year old husband to be. He had joined the military, and they wanted to start a new life together. She told me she wasn't pregnant. The ceremony took place in a small chapel/class room at the church I was serving as an associate pastor. About ten people were in attendance. Afterwards, I helped her sisters scoop sherbet into a punch bowl for their tiny reception. I remember I broke the punch ladle trying to use it as a scooper. The whole thing seemed depressing to me. A wedding in a classroom attended by ten people. A couple too young to be making such a significant life commitment. But one of her sisters opened my eyes when she said to me somewhat wistfully: "I wish I had had a nice church wedding like this one." She was serious, and I was put in my place. Her wedding had been at the courthouse with no family at all. Her comments made me aware of how my perception of something can be very different than that of someone else. I had been insensitive for not seeing how beautiful the experience was for that family. I have needed that lesson many times during my years in ministry. I have needed to look at things from someone else's perspective and value how they saw it. So every time I meet with a couple about their wedding, I remember Cindy. I remember my first time. She has had a greater impact on me than she could have imagined. I hope they lived happily ever after.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Passion for Pop-Tarts

The Kellogg's website proclaims: "We believe life should be sprinkled with happiness, frosted with possibilities and filled with fun. Just like Pop-Tarts toaster pastries." That kind of statement will preach, won't it? At least in America.
I was on the Kellogg's website because I found myself craving Pop-Tarts last week. I was driving north of Akron on Rt. 8 when all of a sudden and without prior warning Pop-Tarts came into my mind. I didn't feel sprinkled with happiness or frosted with possibilities, but I felt a craving for those toaster pastries. As these unbidden thoughts entered my mind, my mouth actually started to water, and I could taste that Brown Sugar Cinnamon. I was startled by how powerful that craving was and how real the taste seemed. Usually only my close friend, Mr. Caffeine, has that kind of grip on me.
I have not eaten a Pop-Tart in years, but if I hadn't shaken off that thought I was only minutes away from the cereal aisle and that sugary delight in my mouth. I probably would have opened the package right in the store. At one time, Pop-Tarts were a regular part of my daily food pyramid, at least for the summer. I spent many summer weeks as the Director of Camp Christian, and Pop-Tarts were often the late night snack that we gave to our middle-school aged campers. What a better way to prepare a child to sleep away a humid July night after the Monday night square dance than by offering them a warm glass of milk and a cold Pop-Tart. Counselors often thanked us for giving their charges sugar right before bedtime. We had cases of those delightful snacks in the office, and as the Director I could have one anytime I wanted to. What a great job benefit! And even if I tried to eat just one, I always ended up eating that second one that came in the package because I felt so bad for it being all alone in that little box.
The grip of Pop-Tart passion last week was undeniable, and it reminded me of that quote that sin starts in the mind and in the heart before it moves to other parts of our bodies. And that's why Jesus made such a big deal of pointing out to his followers that they can commit a sin like adultery without even touching another person. It all starts in the head.
Pop-Tarts have tried to enter my mind a couple of times since last week. They know that they got my attention, and they are lurking at the door of my heart encouraging me to invite them in. And they would taste so good. I know they would. But so far I have managed to say: "Get behind me, Satan! Take away thy vile calories."
What is lurking outside the door of your heart?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Nicole, our Director of Community Ministries, went to a FREE PASTORS LUNCH with me last week. As the pastor of a local church, I receive a number of invitations to a FREE PASTORS BREAKFAST or LUNCH. Clergy respond to the words FREE and FOOD in the same sentence as if it is an altar call for them. This particular invitation offered a meal at a buffet, and do you know a pastor who can turn that down? I don't know if I have met one.

I had second thoughts before we even got to the event because I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a FREE PASTORS LUNCH. I once attended one meal in which we were required to sit through a sermon by a main speaker. I was willing to do that, but when the speaker announced that she couldn't decide between two messages so she would be preaching them both, I knew I was in trouble. I stayed through the first message, paying my dues, then left. No FREE CLERGY MEAL is worth sitting through two sermons. And the coffee was weak and the eggs were cold.

When we arrived at the restaurant it was packed with thrifty men and women of God (mostly men). I didn't recognize any of them. Apparently Nicole and I were in a select group that no other members of our denomination belonged in. We wanted to sit in the back, but we were ushered to seats at the front near the speaker who was already mesmerizing the crowd with his homiletic skills. It was like one of the parables of Jesus except that we didn't want to be honored. We didn't want the best seats. We preferred to be closer to the exits. As the speaker went on, there was only one question on everyone's minds: "When will he take a break and let us get in that buffet line?"

When he stopped to take a breath, someone managed to pray, and a herd of hungry folks hurdled towards that FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON. The buffet turned out to be much better than I expected, but the program was much worse. Once we had our food (and Nicole and I had managed to move towards the back, letting other people have those choice front row seats - we were modest after all), he continued with his seemingly nonstop barrage of personal stories and anecdotes all of which (I assume) were meant to convince us to purchase the product he was selling.

After being at the event for over 1 1/2 hours and making sure I picked up that extra brownie, I was beginning to plan an exit strategy when the speaker unexpectedly said: "FORNICATORS AND HOMOSEXUALS." As a pastor I hate to admit that I don't really know what the word "FORNICATORS" refers to, and I don't believe I have ever used that word in a sermon. But I now know that if our own congregation on Sunday is beginning to drift then that word will snap them back to attention. I don't know if I have ever met a FORNICATOR, but I can tell you that some of my favorite people in the world are HOMOSEXUALS.

The speaker went on to say that his product could be used a a tool to help HOMOSEXUALS leave their lifestyle. Most HOMOSEXUALS I know aren't all that interested in leaving their lifestyle unless that implies winning the lottery , quitting their jobs, and moving to Maui. What they are looking for in the church is a place of love and acceptance for who they are. The speaker asked for a show of hands of how many of the clergy at the FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON knew about a HOMOSEXUAL who had left their lifestyle. I didn't see any hands go up.

My hand did not go up, but I didn't stand up to walk out either. Anyone observing my silence and my lack of movement could have thought that I approved of what he was saying. A few minutes later Nicole and I did move on, and a few days later I wondered about my lack of action.

What did that FREE PASTORS LUNCH cost me and those that I care about?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Turning Down The Radio

At a few minutes after midnight on Easter morn, our son Josh and friend Kathleen devoured a small mountain of chocolate. They had both been faithful to their Lenten pledges to refrain from sweets, but why wait any longer than necessary to celebrate Christ's liberating us from the bondage of sin? I am still keeping my Lenten pledge at least for now. I had decided on Ash Wednesday to keep the radio and sound system turned off in my car when I drove. No NPR, no CAVS games, no Jim Rome, no "Safe for the Whole Family" stations, no independent music, no CD's, no MP3's, no books on tape or CD. At first it seemed unnatural because my hand was trained to push on the radio knob a second after I started the car. I had decided that everytime I reached for the radio I would recite the Shema (Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God...), but after a week or so I wasn't reaching anymore. Here's the major learning from my quiet car experiences: I didn't miss a thing. I didn't hear the ususal suspects calling Howie Chizek on WNIR nor did I catch "All Things Considered" or even spend any time in The Jungle. And those things and my life went on just fine. We didn't miss each other one bit. I don't think I am close to removing the sound system from my car, but I am certainly wondering why I should turn it back on.
I recall that when I was in seminary travelling back and forth from Northeast Ohio to Boston that my radio (AM plus that FM converter) was my #1 piece of safety equipment. When ominous banging noises came from my engine, I just turned up the radio and keep the pedal to the metal. Who needed to hear those noises anyway? Now it is the noises from my radio that bother me more than the sounds from my engine. Who needs those noises anyway? So for now anyway I prefer my own stream of conciousness - as disturbing as it is sometimes - to those sounds from the car speakers. Happy Easter season.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sleeping in Church

Have you ever fallen asleep in church? The sanctuary is warm, the prayer isn't too loud, the pew is comfortable enough, and you haven't had nearly enough caffeine or quite enough sleep. Your eyes start to close, your chin starts to drop, snap awake because you are the preacher, and, after all, they pay you to stay awake during your own sermon. Someone has to be awake during your sermon.

I don't think that I have ever fallen asleep in church at least during a service in which I have a role. But I have nodded off at the movies, during the ballet, in front of the TV, and in any number of other places. My slumber has had no connection to the quality of the dialogue, the dexterity of the dancers, or the intricacies of the plot. I was exhausted and I fell asleep. It was as simple as that.

So I don't take it personally when someone falls asleep during my preaching. But I wondered this week if it ever happened to Jesus. Maybe at the Sermon on the Mount as people sat on their blankets. After all, it was a long day. And I remembered that it did happen to Paul. He was preaching on and on well after midnight when a young man after Eutychus not only fell asleep but fell from his perch on the third floor and was presumed to be dead. Whether Paul resuscitated him or whether he wasn't really dead isn't quite clear. But after a break to eat, Paul was undeterred and kept preaching until daybreak. The family of Eutychus was thankful that they were able to get him out of there alive. And the folks at New Horizons Christian Church where I preach get antsy if the service runs over an hour. I should remind them that their goal should be to get out of the sanctuary alive.

A minister was once criticized for dozing off during marital counseling. The couple was upset, but I sympathized with the pastor. She must have been having a long day and needed a nap.

I recall that my father often fell asleep in his recliner. He worked long hours at the steel mill, came home to eat his dinner, then went to his chair. It was his throne. It was his well-deserved place of rest. He had earned the right to be there. And, man, could he snore.

So I am glad to see everyone who comes to worship at our church on a Sunday both those who stay awake and those who fall asleep. I am grateful that all of them have made the effort to get there while others have stayed at home. And if you find yourself nodding off one Sunday in our sanctuary, we'll try to keep the noise down so that you can get the rest that you deserve.