Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I've intended for about a week now to post a comment about my county's Department of Social Services. A week ago, a woman our congregation has been helping off and on for several months, was at a real low point and needed more help than we could offer. Estranged from her children, it seemed she didn't know where to turn. It was cold outdoors and she didn't know where she was going to stay that night.

I made a few calls and figured the DSS could help her and offered to have her follow me for the 20 minute drive to their office. We arrived 15 minutes before they were set to close, she tried to screw up as much of her pride as she could maintain while going to ask for a level of help she had admirably sought to avoid for several years. We walked in the building and not knowing where to go started wandering and obviously looking a bit lost. A custodian (!) stopped and asked us if she could help and very politely directed us to the correct office. The staff who then helped us arrange for a warm and safe bed for the night were SO wonderfully kind and helpful. They joked with her getting her to calm down, they treated her with tremendous diginity and kindness. The entire office had to stay past closing time to help us but I didn't notice anyone look at a clock or imply any need for hurry. They arranged for a warm and safe bed for her and took the actions required to start the ball rolling for her care.

I was so very impressed with the way the staff interacted with us. They treated this woman as a human being, not a "client" or "vagrant" or object. Thanks.

After leaving the county office building, we drove together as far as a gas station to make sure she could get to her bed that night and then back to DSS in the morning. Then I left her. She was grateful and had been able to retain her dignity through a situation I know she had feared.

We heard from her the next day that things looked good for her. Then we heard nothing for several days, but this was not unusual.

We heard today that she is dead. We aren't sure the circumstances or reasons.

I have every reason to think that the care and dignity she received that first night at DSS was maintained. I know that we at church showed her unconditional love and support, even though we eventually had to help her look to the county for support. I hope she died knowing that some people cared for her very much.

Into your hands, O God, we commend your servant.
Acknowledge, we pray,
a sheep of your own fold,
a lamb of your own flock,
a sinner of your own redeeming.
Recieve her into the arms of your mercy
with all the saints in light.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


A good friend of mine in ministry is facing a tough time in his congregation right now. I talked to him today and could sense the cloud hanging over him and the church. As denominations make stands on public issues, some congregations and pastors struggle to decide how or if they fit in with those stands. That turmoil can lead to fighting and accusations and name-calling and conflict and a whole bunch of other struggles. My friend is in the middle of just one such conflict now.

The song Skin, by the Vigilates of Love, is one of those songs I put on repeat now and then when I need to hear the truth of the words: sometimes you can't please everyone / sometimes you can't please anyone at all / you sew your heart onto your sleeve / and wait for the ax to fall

(I'm not sure how to share the audio of this song with you, so here are the lyrics...)


now i'd seen him despondent
a few times as of late
sometimes the answer that love gives
is the hardest one to take
i know he was prone to paint
the voice of his own fear
so vincent he picked up the blade
and he put it to his ear

look at yourself in the mirror
you're all rumpled red stubbled and gaunt
you walk a dead end path in a dry corn field
and now this morose response
your princess she don't wanna see you
no your princess she don't wanna hear
so vincent he picked up the blade
and he put it to his ear

now look if you're gonna come around here
and say those sort of things
you gotta take a few on the chin
you talking about love and all that stuff
you better bring your thickest skin
sometimes you can't please everyone
sometimes you can't please anyone at all
you sew your heart onto your sleeve
and wait for the ax to fall

you there with the paint box
you there with paper and pen
me i got this blunt instrument
i'm gonna play on 'til the end
and you know you come with empty hands
or you don't come at all
you deal your best hand out in the marketplace
and let the chips fall

the package it comes wrapped up
there is a lesson here
vincent he picked up the blade
and he put it to his ear

now look if you're gonna come around here
and say those sort of things
you gotta take a few on the chin
yeah you're talking about sin and redemption
well you better wear your thickest skin
sometimes you can't please everyone
sometimes you can't please anyone at all
sew your heart onto your sleeve
and wait for the ax to fall

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The other day, driving on the Northway, Charis spotted a stand of tall grass along the side of the road. Usually this time of year, the grass would be under several inches – if not feet – of snow… this winter has been devoid of snow so far and no maintenance crew intends to mow in New York in January. So, as we are driving along the Northway, Charis and I are negotiating whether we will go to the Children’s Museum (my choice) or the carousel at the mall (her choice). I change my plans to go ahead to the carousel and she’s silent for a moment until I hear, “Daddy, grains of wheat! Communion!” as she points to the stand of tall grass.

Then she starts to sing, “As the grains of wheat, once scattered on a hill…”

I have to back up for the non-POP folk who read this: at Prince of Peace, we celebrate communion every week. I was raised in a church that celebrated communion every three months and accompanied this ceremony with stoic faces, a dirge on the organ, and a dismal cloud that descended into the sanctuary. Prince of Peace is a bit different: we celebrate every week. Kids are a welcome part of our worship so we tend to have giggling, crying, scurrying and squirming as we gather for communion. Charis is among the kids who scurry and squirm – she tends to be kinda quiet – as she comes forward each week for communion.

Usually, Charis describes this a time for “bread and juice.” Last week, I was able to sit with her in worship and as the elements were brought forward I said "Now it's time for communion." She wanted to know more about that word and settled for Jesus being with us at this special time.

We often sing a cheerful song as the bread and wine are brought forward during the worship service. Charis has often sung this song at home or other times: “As the grains of wheat, once scattered on a hill, are gathered into one to become our bread, so may all your people, from all the ends of earth, be gathered into one in you."

And so, after negotiating a carousel ride from her dad, my not-yet-three year old looked out the window of our minivan to a stand of grass, taller than it generally grows, and associates that grass with pictures of wheat fields she has seen and then connects that to a song she likes and draws a connection to communion.

I am proud to come from traditions that choose to let children come to the communion table. This was not the case in the congregation in which I grew up. To be “admitted” to the table, we had to complete class time with the pastor and be interviewed by the Consistory, something so daunting most kids put it off until well into high school. We were told we shouldn’t come to the Lord’s Supper until we “understood” what it was about.

Phooey. I’ve got a Master’s Degree in Divinity now and I STILL don’t understand everything about the Lord’s Supper. But I do know that my daughter already understands more than I thought she did – she can look out the window of a car and be reminded of worship and sacrament. That’s cool.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Love the one you're with

The story of how the pigs made it to Grandma's house is a family favorite involving misunderstandings, assumptions, a road trip to Tijuana, (bad taste) and many, many laughs. The short version of the story has these two ceramic pigs in Grandma's apartment and Charis fascinated with them... and not so sure why my sister and brother in law aren't there...

Monday, January 01, 2007

The first winter I spent in New York, after moving here from Arizona, I bought a natural daylight bulb for my desk lamp because the January days here are so short and dark. (Little did I know that later I’d join the air guard unit that spends our winter in a land where the sun never sets!) Though I’ve adjusted pretty well to the seasons here, winter can be a tough pull for me. Somewhere in the back of my head I know the days are getting longer, but it’s hard to notice the pace of just a minute or two per day. When the natural daylight bulb blew out sometime that summer, I replaced it with a generic white frosted. I realized I’d hardly noticed the gradual lengthening of sunlight but that the days were as long as I’d wished they’d been in January.

New Year’s Day and January come on us with sudden fireworks and the illusion that maybe this year will be different. The newborn 2007 shakes his rattle and pushes old man 2006 off stage. But, in the words of one of my favorite theologians, Bono: “nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” Of course that’s not entirely true: New Year’s Day has a minute more of sunlight than New Year’s Eve. But the sentiment of the lyric is that dramatic changes in our lives seldom happen overnight.

U2 wrote the song “New Year’s Day” in part to support the nonviolent movement Solidarity in Poland. Founded in 1980 as a labor union in a communist country, Solidarity could not be crushed by the regime in power. It took nearly a decade, but this labor movement was able to leverage enough influence to spark the first of five overthrows of Eastern-bloc countries in 1989. Nothing changed in one day.

Our lives require constant small choices that gradually steer us into our values. I can choose today to be more attentive to my daughters for a few extra minutes, to tell my wife one more time that I love her, to make that extra effort at work beyond what is merely required. The changes in our lives that last are the changes we work on little by little, a minute here and a minute there. Then, gradually, we notice the sky is brighter and we are in the place we had hoped to be in months ago.