Q-tips and Angels

I’ve had the unique privilege of meeting some interesting individuals while working in the church.  For whatever reason within the boundaries of the church people often feel free to express themselves in a manner not readily found elsewhere.  Freedom to be yourself seems to be a rally cry.  Isn’t it amazing that in a place that tries to make everyone look and act alike finds itself a breeding ground for individual expression.

These people feel no need to muzzle or accept certain sociatial expectations.  In many ways they behave like a cat that’s finally let out of the barn.  What is so great about a community like the church is the acceptance shown to their own.   (not always given to outsiders, unfortunately) Extreme personalities are often venerated and even taken as a source of pride.

I imagine people comparing their church’s crazies with their friends crazies over coffee and donuts.  The conversations must be so rich and fully bodied. 

There was an individual in a church I served named Desmond.  He was a slight man who barely cast a shadow.  One who almost disappeared in a crowd.  But boy could he talk.  He was an older man without inhibitions or limitations on his speech.  Always good for a LENGTHY story that usually repeated the one previously told.  Sometimes he would alter the facts a little which gave the listener a chance to focus.  He was harmless and gentle but verbose to an extreme.

One day Desmond came bursting into my existing conversation, as he was prone to do, to tell me his story.  The story that got so much play was about his former occupation as a barber running what he affectionately called his “clip joint”.  This day was no different.  The crowd I was addressing parted to let the show begin.  He continiously started the story in the same manner, “Reverend Fisher” When I…”, and off he went.  I’ve never before nor ever since been addressed as Reverend Fisher, at least not with any sincerity.

As he began I noticed something strange about Desmond.  Something that just didn’t seem right, something was out of place.  This is not easy to notice on a man who never took much concern on making his clothes even begin to match.  But something was unusual and I just starred while he perseverated once again about cutting hair.

Trying to be perpetually polite as ministers are trained to do, I couldn’t stop myself from noting the irregularity this day.  I interrupted him in the middle of his usual story and asked him “Desmond, why do you have a q-tip sticking out of your ear”?

He seemed dumbfounded as he reached towards his ear.  “Oh, there it is, I was wondering what happened to it this morning.”  With that he took the q-tip out of his ear stuck it in his mouth and wandered off.  That day he never finished that story.

To this day I can’t help thinking of Desmond each time I see a q-tip.  He’s forever cemented a memory within my mind I expect to never forget.  Desmond was a meek, kind, and gentle man who had no malice in his personality.  While his mind seemed to sometimes slip, his heart was pure and certainly worth remembering.

Too often people like Desmond are just brushed aside as a nuisance.  How many people have I ignored and found lacking because of the impression initially made.  Too many I’m certain.  What a shame!  How many Desmond’s have I excluded from my life?  How much richness have I missed and not ingrained into my heart from others? 

A book I enjoy reading states …by treating strangers kindly we have unknowingly entertained angels.  I sure would like to be friends with more angels.

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Church is for the Dogs

Working in the church can be both an enormous high and a dreadful low.  There are moments when you can’t believe you are fortunate enough to participate in something so wonderful and meaningful.  There are also those times when you wonder where God is in all this nonsense and how could a loving God have anything to do with this mess.

The reality is the profession spends most of its time spent somewhere in between these two extremes.  It’s in these times the humor found working in church seems to blossom.  My kids love for me to tell them the many stories of when I worked in church.  They seem to never tire hearing the zany exploits of the God’s truly chosen.  While I must admit, sometimes I’ve been known to embellish some of the details, the stories themselves are completely true.  The fact that the story is real probably is what makes it so funny.

One story that gets much play involved an older couple who happened to be blind.  If memory serves me correctly, they wove cane seats and backs for chairs.  They were a lovely couple who had been through much together and really loved each other.

Each had a guide dog that provided protection and direction as they lived their existence.  He had a large white lab named Bud and she a black lab named Dolly.  (the names have been changed to protect their identities)  One would never notice this couple anywhere without these two dogs.  This included church.

It says much about a church that welcomes guide dogs.  Even the best trained and intentioned still from time to time act like dogs.  While that isn’t a problem for most people to have a dog sit beside you in church it does take adjusting if your a new staff member or a visitor from out of town.

These old dogs had been coming to church for as long as anyone could remember (overlook the obvious pun here) and were a regular fixture.  They sat beneath the couple’s feet in the center section about halfway back from the front.  The male “Bud” had a tendency to fall asleep very fast and find himself in a deep sleep before the choir ever got out the first note.  This would have been a good thing except “Bud” snored like a weedwacker in need of a tune-up.  He also lived out exotic fantasies in his sleep.  I hope they involved chasing a rabbit or the like as we were in church.  He seemed to act out what ever was happening in his dream, even growling or snorting while it was happening.  Sometimes he would awaken himself with a bark, which was always good for an awkward stare from that week’s visitors.

I mentioned that these two dogs where good sleepers, well, these dogs also lost many inhibitions when they slept as well.  Admit it…farts are funny, whether silent or loud.  Anyway you slice it, farts makes us laugh.  “Bud” mostly produced the silent type.  They would slowly start to make their presence known…build up strength of purpose…then bam!,  before anyone had time to react it would overwhelm the sanctuary.  This colorless emitance would starve the room for oxygen.  People would begin to look tearfully at those sitting nearby with disgust.  Helpless looks were returned that said, “It wasn’t me” or “what the hell is that”?  This was always good for a great laugh by the youth as the younger generation still enjoy a good laugh.  We had quite a youth group then,  I often wondered if it was me or the opportunity to do church with dogs that led to our good numbers.  The preacher seldom seemed aware of what was the culprit of this vile event.   He must have wondered why so many people looked upset when he spoke.  Maybe the dogs were trying to tell us something?

“Bud” had a terrific internal clock that had been honed by years of experience and repetition.  At 12:00 sharp he instinctively knew the church service should be over and would sit bolt upright and begin to whimper.  “Time to go” he seemed to be saying.  If the pastor felt overly inspired that week he would be reminded of his mortality by the sound of a barking dog who said what everyone else was thinking.  “Shut up and sit down” …”don’t you know I’ve got to pee”?

The antics of “Bud” and “Dolly” where memorable.  I have to wonder what God was thinking when these dogs performed.  The little I understand about God tells me laughter may have been present.  Sometimes it takes the off-beat behavior of a pair of dogs to help us understand that church doesn’t have to be such a stale, dry, boring place. 

God works in mysterious ways, errr, I mean I hope that’s the case.

Church Chat

I should begin by stating that I consider myself a churchgoer.  I find comfort in the collection of like minded folks trying to draw closer to the divine and find meaning for life.  Church has been and hopefully will remain a place of substance that challenges me to see the greater purpose for life.   I find strength when prayer is united, energized when song is harmonized, and encouraged when the word is opened.  As a whole the church experience can be beautiful one.

Having the knowledge that when difficulty or hurt surround us this community can help bear our burdon side by side is a powerful understanding.  There are times when one needs to just be around others and observe without participation and the church provides this as well.  We can enter the church wherever we are in life and become a peer to all others present.  Equal sinners before a forgiving and loving God.  A most blessed and beautiful event.

So I feel led to ask the question…Why does the church seem more inclined to isolate and separate than include?  What I guess I’m asking is if all of us come to God’s presence only through grace then why is today’s church so exclusionary?  How with any conscience can a person claiming to be perfected into Christ’s image look at others and see anything other than themselves?  When did the church decide the greater value is to only welcome people with certain forgiveable sins?  Since when is sin put on a scale of importance?

Grace is what makes us all one.  It equally brings us to the foot of the cross where the choice to follow or reject awaits.  Grace cleans our slate and gives us common existence with the rest of humanity.  Grace is not a choice for me to give away.  It is the essence of existence.  It must be shared not just so it can be passed on to others but so I can fulfill my calling as a follower.  No matter how many curious beliefs we accept or various practices we enjoin, a life lived with out grace to others and self is not a healthy existence.

It’s time for the church to see people the same way God sees them, the same way God sees me.  Imperfect…in need of love, forgiveness, and acceptance.  If today’s church wants to be relevant it will teach and experience inclusion.  The same message shared by a carpenter many years ago.  Church isn’t defined by who is kept away but by who is let in.

A man walked into a doctor’s office and said, “Doctor, I have this awful headache that never leaves me.  Could you give me something for it?”  “I will,” said the doctor, “But I want to check a few things out first.  Tell me, do you drink a lot of liquor?”  “Liquor?” said the man indignantly, “I never touch the filthy stuff.”  “How about smoking?”  “I think smoking is disgusting.  I’ve never in my life touched tobacco.”  “I’m a bit embarrassed to ask this, but–you know the way some men are –do you do any running around at night?”  “of course not.  What do you take me for?  I’m in bed every night by ten o’clock at the latest.”  “tell me then,” said the doctor, “this pain in the head you speak of, is it a sharp, shooting kind of pain?”  “Yes, ” said the man.  “That’s it–a sharp, shooting kind of pain.”  “Simple, my dear fellow!  Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight.  All we need to do for you is loosen it a bit.”

Live large…even in church

Seeing is Believing

Unfortunately I have a bad slice when it comes to hitting with my irons.  Watching shots slowly begin to arc away from their destination frustrates me to no end.   The instruction received from the golf pro only lessen the severity of my slice but doesn’t eliminate it.  Two options are available to me.  Live in frustration or adjust accordingly.  I need no other sources of anguish so I just aim left of my target.

Early one morning, before play began on the course, I took a handful of golf balls down to the 12th hole to practice.  With no one around I had time to swing away working on that blasted slice.  Today I tried to get out of my head and just swing with a relaxed motion.  To my surprise the ball traveled completely straight.  Repeat, again, again…wow, this is great!  I walked to the green and collected my shots preparing to return and hit another round of hopefully straight shots.

I heard a sound off to my left where the woods met the edge of the course.  As I silently watched I saw two deer just past the green working on breakfast.  I set up to hit another round of shots and again found the shots not slicing.  This would be a day to remember.  Little did I actually know.

I turned to wave at the greens keeper on the hole down the hill.  When I turned around those two deer had moved onto the green I was hitting towards.  I felt the safest place the deer could be when I was hitting was on the green so I launched another shot.  Oh crap!  A perfect shot that landed right in the middle of the green.  In no measure did I wish to alarm or cause harm to the deer.  I assumed the ball would frighten them and off they would run.  Wrong.

I stare in unbelief.  I squint to get a clearer view of what my mind is telling me I’m seeing.  Slowly I walk closer.  Not only did the deer not run off when the ball landed near them, they instead walked curiously toward it.  Like in a cartoon the deer sniffs at the ball and then hits it with a foot.  The other deer chases after the ball.  Just like a dog these deer begin to chase after the golf ball all over the green.  I keep trying to get closer as the show I’m watching is beyond words and deems a closer vantage point.

There are times when each one of us needs a little reinforcement of our faith.  A gentle reminder the we are not alone and there is a much larger force directing this production.  Something to remind us that there is reason to smile and believe deep within our hearts that everything is fine.  Just this moment in time.  Just this snapshot of eternity that we get to pose in.  This for me was a moment of clarity that sometimes I need not try to act as the conductor on this train.  Passengers seem to enjoy the view better anyway.

Just when this epiphany stuck me…along comes my trusted companion, my loyal dog who must have realized I was away from his protective side.  Being a dog as he is prone to be, off he goes chasing the deer away.  He comes back completely proud of his accomplishments looking for affirmation that he did a good job.  Such is the circle of life.  I pat his head and walk back to the house.

Attachments keep us from really enjoying moments like these.  I had to let that deer sequence leave and accept the present reality of my dog needing affection.  By the way, my slice came back.  This is life.

Zen and the Art of Golf Ball Hawking

Everyone should be fortunate enough to find an activity that really brings you home.  Something that finds your center and provides enjoyment and tranquility.  Having an activity that can be returned to time and time again providing a much needed respite in this crazy world we hang out in.  Going home refers to finding ones inner self, their core, the place where you begin.

I crave the pursuit of finding wayward golf balls.  Maybe there is an unresolved issue with my youth that causes such a desire.  I find myself needing to gather golf balls much like the outdoorsman needs to slaughter helpless creatures.  I’m a hunter in every sense of the word.  Outfitted with a backpack, baseball cap, and my weapon of choice…pitching wedge.  I am all business in my pursuit…don’t even think about getting in my way.

Let me preface this to say I am fortunate to live on a destination golf course.  As such the people that come and play tend to be on vacation and spending money isn’t of concern.  Why this comes into play means golf balls found aren’t the X-outs or knockoff variety.  What I find are the Callaways, Nikes, and Noodles…golfers will tell you these are prized possesions.  My version of the valued impala or massive elk.

Couple of rules to remember as you seek to become a follower of the dream. 

1.  Never reach into grassy areas without first checking with club.

2.  Water works like a magnet on golf balls.  Look there first.

3.  Where there is one ball, usually  two or more can be found as well.

4.  Snakes can become possessive of golf balls, leave those alone.

5.  Don’t hunt at dusk as your activity may attract bears who are greedy and don’t like to share.

6.  Crossing the same area from different angles produces great results.

7.  If a golfer sees you hunting offer him a ball as a peace offering otherwise he’ll think you stole his ball.

8.  While finding pink, yellow, orange, and blue colored balls is much like finding easter eggs, never put these balls into same bucket as regular balls.

9.  Don’t be afraid of the dirty balls.  They clean up just like new.

10. Never, even under the threat of extreme torture, expose your secret honey holes.

There is a tranquility found in the woods alone.  A Waldonesque mystique that draws into harmony the chaos that befuddles us.  For me it is a very Zen like time where the past has no meaning and the future serves no value.  It is the complete essence of now.  The place where we find peace in our creator.  Silence is a gift so easily received yet seldom sought.  But once you hear it…once you live silence and come into presence then everything else sounds like the din of destruction we find ourselves perpetually surrounded by.  How nice to escape and find calm.  How wonderful is the quiet.

My Zen practice has benefited my golf ball hunting by bringing to mind constant awareness of my surroundings.  Most people hunt for golf balls by looking around until one is spotted.  A Zen collector finds them by noticing the changes to the present reality.  This is the true depth of awareness.  How much we miss by looking only for that white ball.  How many flowers do we trample, how many berries do we squish.  Awareness forces us to examine everything continiously without judgement or emotion.  It is with this heightened understanding, real golf ball hunting occurs.

Does this translate to life?  Can this awareness be practiced elsewhere?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Not only can it be practiced anywhere it should be practiced anywhere.  It’s amazing what happens to our lives when we step aside from seeking answers and focus instead on seeking truth.

Happy Hunting!

Huckleberries Redux…

My daughter recently asked me to join her on an outing to pick huckleberries to eat.  Seldom in these teenage years am I asked to participate on any level.  Something about not being cool enough.  Something also about making her listen to my rambling thoughts.  

She’d heard to me perseverate enough on the wonder of these berries and decided she wanted to try them out for herself.  Knowing she was in for a real treat at the end of this journey I gleefully accepted her offer.  In the back of my mind I’m thinking this will be about quality time together maybe a chance to teach a life lesson, who knows? 

Out we go, golf club in one hand small bucket in the other.  I explain the need for a stick when hunting for berries.  Snakes also like to eat these fruit and its wise to check the plants first before poking in a hand.  No fruit no matter how tasty is worth a snakebite.  My choice of a pitching wedge purely a personal preference.  The look from her due to my decision to use a golf club on this foray amazes me.  Why is this so weird?  Why do my everyday decisions seem to cause her so much anguish.  One time I choose to wear a dashiki in public with her and forever in her mind I’m crazy and deserve to be institutionalized.  I’ve become a dalit in my own family.  Anyway, where was I?

It’s not a quick process picking huckleberries.  I doubt one could grow fat eating them as its so much work to collect them.  Maybe this is part of a larger plan.  I explain to her each plant only has a limited amount of berries.  I’m reminded  of the passage describing the provision for even the least of these and the greater concern available for each of us.  Here right before us is living truth.  This is the hand of the almighty not only feeding the deer but also making sure they have to work for it.  Could there be a lesson somewhere in there for me?  Limited availability on each plant causes the deer and other animals to keep moving from plant to plant to get their fill.  Maybe this is a reason we don’t see too many fat animals in the wild.  God keeps these little ones always on the go.

My explanations seem to annoy her.  My spiritualizing the stupid old huckleberry seems to be pushing her to the brink.  Finally it comes out…”would you just mind picking the berries for me?” “I’m going back in the house, too many creepy crawly things out here” 

Then it hits me…my princess just wanted some stupid berries to chew on.  She didn’t want to hear my meanderings.  So now not only am I the family dalit I also am the day laborer as well.  Such is the life of a dufus dad.

Huckleberries…

I walked through the woods today finding a plentiful supply of huckleberries.  These small blueberry wannabees have a sweet taste that invite me to frequently sample their wares.  As I devour them I think of how good more of these are than less.  How a tub of these would be great with some iced tea.  Is there a better, more efficient means to collect them? I find myself with a need for more.

Often deer amble by finding these same berries a welcome source of nourishment.  I’m sure for a deer, food is not taken for granted and to the level available are extremely grateful for these many huckleberries.   I wonder when the deer eat these taste treats do they have the same ability to saviour the moment?  Any ability to saviour the moment?   Or do they have to eat and run.  Being lower on the food chain changes the way they must eat.  Natures answer to the drive thru window.

Seeing maybe for the first time God’s intimate hand at work…provision for the lovely deer.  These yummy treats are to be equally shared by deer and dude alike.   Sometimes we only need to open our eyes to the world around us to see the manifestations of love.  How easy it is to touch and experience the handiwork of God.  This God surely has a warm embrace for us.  This God seems to really care.  Why am I so often unable to accept direction and peace so freely given?

As I ate them I couldn’t help thinking about the Arabian fable “The Disabled Fox”

A man walking through the forest saw that a fox had lost use of its legs and wondered how it lived.  Then he saw a tiger come in with game in its mouth.  The tiger had its fill and left the rest of its meat for the fox.

The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger.  The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, “I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all I need.”

He did this for many days and nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door when he heard a voice say, O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth!  Follow the example of the tiger and stop imitating the disabled fox.”

That’s what I want with my life…eyes that are open to the truth.  Time to start acting more like a tiger.