Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carols

Do you hear what I hear?

  • Humming and singing and whistling while they're in the shower or walking through the house.
  • The buzz of voices, a jazz composition that allows fantastic flights of improvisation, sounds rising and dipping and merging and floating to the top, but with a meter and beat that is familiar like old socks.
  • Laughter. More than any ear deserves. Laughter as simple audible grace.
  • Dice rolling on the hardwood table. Scrabble tiles being stirred in the bag. Shuffling cards. The ear-splitting shaking of Boggle cubes.
  • The distinct, utterly unique scraping of hands through buckets of Lego bricks, searching for the right one, one in a million.
  • Silent breathing in a dark room with the Christmas tree lights on.
  • Feet tumbling down the stairs, identifying by the cadence, landing, and creak of wood the individual who walks with them.
The kids are home. All is well. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Grandma Tales

Grandma's pet phrase, ever since she moved in with us seven years ago, has been "It's no fun getting old, but everybody does it." When she said it seven years ago, it was always the punch line to a funny joke--a way to bridge the gap between an old-age foible and on-going conversation.

In the last few years, it's not been a joke, but a statement of truth. Point of fact. It really isn't fun to get old. Not fun at all.

And then about a year ago, the phrase just lifted to the top of her brain as the thing to say whenever she couldn't think of the right thing to say. Those moments of not knowing what to say came more and more frequently. She would say it dozens of times a day. Over and over, back to back.

She said it once yesterday. It's not the phrase it used to be. As much as I was sick of hearing it, I wish she would use it again.

It's been replaced with two other phrases. The first is, "I just want to go to heaven." Completely understandable. If I were in her position, that's what I would want, too. This one is sometimes altered to "I just want to die" and that is sometimes changed to "I don't want to die" and once it came out, "I don't want to go to heaven." Well, we know that isn't true.

But more often than "I just want to go to heaven," she says, "I don't know what to do!" She says it as if she's just bounced a check, or lost her toddler, or discovered a giant chicken in the room. She is quite worried about what to do. When she says "I don't know what to do!" we query her.

FAQ from the family when Grandma says, "I don't know what to do!":

  1. Do about what?
  2. What would you like to do?
  3. Is there something you think you need to do?
  4. Why are you worried about what to do?
  5. Is there a giant chicken in here?

Grandma is dying. I understand that. We're all OK with it.

I just wish she knew what to do.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Did I Drive 1400 Miles To The Epic Fail Pastors Conference?

First session, Thursday evening. First question: Why are you here?

I told my fellow-fails around the table that I'd spent the last 700 miles asking that question. My answers were  sketchy. I tossed a few ideas out on the table. I talked about the tide rolling out. I combed through the eleven-plus hours I had driven, and what I'd thought about.

I didn't know where to start.

Two weeks before the conference I shared my thoughts about the why thing here in writing. With my literary tongue in my cheek, and a wink of my ironic, sarcastic eye, I claimed I wasn't a failure. Yeah, well . . .

FAILURE is a big word. The list is -- long. Too long.

There's more than enough failure in my life. I'm not at a loss to find it, just to enumerate it. If the measurement of success at a conference on failure was how long your list was, it would take some time. More time than we had. More paper than they provided.

I'll admit - at first I was disappointed. Not one of the guys at my table was a pastor. All were in ministry of some kind, but none of them was a practicing clergy-person. Wasn't this supposed to be for pastors? These guys aren't going to get me. 

Most of the attenders were younger than me. Many of the participants at the conference could have been my children. Several were just starting out in ministry. How could they even have had enough time to fail yet? They're just baby pastors!

I felt lonely from the start, inadequate, old, a has-been in a room full of will-be's. Low tide. A failure.

Epic Fail Pastors Conference . . . Fail.

It didn't take long -- about ten minutes -- to understand what we were doing. This was . . .

  • A gathering of people who had been drawn like iron shavings by the magnet of the Spirit from around the world (one guy came in from Australia).
  • A quiet, sincere group of ministry-types who were broken like me.
  • A building 100+ years old, once a church, now a bar, now a place where God was up to something.
  • A dressed-down bunch where I felt like I failed the code of raiment because I brought Dockers.
  • A level field. Sinners, spiritually impoverished ragamuffins, wonderers and wanderers. Each of them read the name -- Epic Fail -- and knew they had to be here. Who would come to a conference like this? We would. All of us.
  • A conference unlike any other. In fact, "conference" is probably an inaccurate choice. But if you think people would be wary of this one, who do you think would come to Epic Fail Pastors Group Therapy Retreat?
  • A place God showed himself worthy. And enough.

I hope there will be another one. Maybe many more across the map. For me. For you. Really - you should go.

And here are five reasons you should drive 1400 miles to the next Epic Fail Pastors Conference:

  1. On the way there, you can make your list.
  2. On the way there, you can listen to loud music.
  3. On the way there, you can sing whatever you want.
  4. On the way there, you can enjoy the delusion that you have it all together.
  5. On the way home, you can grieve.

The Epic Fail Pastors Conference was a success. Whatever that means.

Read more about it from the source: J.R. Briggs.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Grandma Tales

Our Geriatric Recreational Supervisor (aka Garrison Benson) has been organizing daily Bingo games with Grandma. Sometimes it's just Gary and Grandma, other times someone else sits in. Today Jon played.

They played a specialized game called "Grandma Bingo." The only real difference in the rules is that Grandma always gets to think she wins, even though everyone else wins, too.

Grandma has had a rough day. But who can't be cheered up a little with a good Bingo game? Thanks, Gary.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Because You'll Want To Know

In two weeks I will be attending the Epic Fail Pastors Conference.

I know. It sounds bad.

I’m thinking there are other pastors going, too, but I haven’t heard from them. I assume they’re too embarrassed to let the news get out. After all, no one wants to claim to God and everybody that they are failures. Especially not in epic proportions.

But I’m also thinking those other guys are probably trying to write something just like this--some blog or newsletter or email in Constant Contact in which they will try to explain to their congregations and friends and enemies why they’re attending a conference with that name. I’m thinking we all want to make everyone feel quite OK with the fact that we registered months ago, that we’ve been looking forward to it, that we’ve done all the homework that Epic Fail PC has asked us to do, and got it done early. We all want to make sure everyone knows one thing about us . . .


Forthwith and forsooth, two lists:

Not Reasons Why I’m Attending Epic Fail PC:
  • It’s not because I’m a whining, hang-dog, persecuted, beat-up pastor.
  • It’s not because I’m failing. At least I don’t think so.
  • It’s not because I’ve gone to the dark side.
  • It’s not because my congregation doesn’t pay me enough. They’re very good to me.
  • It’s not because I’m having a mid-life crisis. That’s so yesterday.
  • It’s not because I love staying in a hotel room alone.
  • It's not because I enjoy leaving my wife to handle things at home.
  • It’s not because I think the name “Epic Fail Pastors Conference” is about the coolest thing I’ve heard in a very long time. Although it is.

 Why I’m Attending the Epic Fail PC:
  • Because self-reliance kills ministry. And pastors.
  • Because I know who I am.
  • Because God has not seemed to call me to mega-church success. (Sorry if you were hoping otherwise).
  • Because I sometimes frustrate Jesus’ headship with my own willful plans.
  • Because I’m weary of programs and strategy and gimmicks and methods.
  • Because pastors get pastors.
  • Because I’m only strong in Christ when I fully realize and own my weakness.
  • Because I’ve been to the flash and smoke and strobe and glitz and big-hired-gun conferences. I like them. Just not what I need right now.
  • Because the day I read about Epic Fail PC, I nearly lost it.
  • Because Paul wrote these words in a letter to a church:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

 So, I’m going. I’ll tell you what I think once I’m there, and when it’s over. 
 "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." — Thomas A. Edison

Friday, March 04, 2011

Grandma Tales: Dignity, Independence, Talking Dogs

Grandma is having a hard day.

Her light was on at 5:30 a.m., and she stuck her head out several times, long before light of morning, to inquire about what time it was, whether it was time for dinner, and who it was that was singing. When she does this (almost every morning), she shouts out to no one in particular. She shouts because she doesn't have her "ears" (hearing aids) in yet. And of course, we have to shout back even louder to answer her. It's quite jolting to wake up to all this noise, even if you're the one making it.

At 9:30 a.m. I heard Grandma talking in her room. I thought maybe it was Jeremy visiting with her, but she was alone. I happened to see the blinking light on the phone system indicating she was calling someone. That's a great thing, except that all of the people she would call live in different time-zones, and all of them would be sleeping. After waking someone, she talked in circles for a minute, then said, "Well, OK then. It's no fun getting old." and hung up.

She came out a few minutes ago, at 10:45, and asked it I'd had lunch. I said it was a little too early for lunch, especially since I knew Grandma had only finished breakfast about an hour and a half ago. She giggled and proceeded to fetch a can of soup to fix. She put it in the pan, added water, and put it on the stove, all the while singing/talking in a kind of ninety-year-old rap, "The angels beckon me from heaven's open door," (here's where she starts kind of rapping), "And I can't feel at home in the world anymore."

She sang for several minutes before realizing that her soup was not getting hot because she had forgotten to turn on the burner. She turned it on and now is enjoying some chicken noodle between stanzas.

Grandma is slipping.

The other night Linda found her brushing her teeth, sans toothbrush or paste--just using her finger. Her brush and paste were within inches of her other hand on the bathroom counter.

Several times now Grandma has heard the new dog, Marzipan, speaking to her. Once, according to Grandma, Marzi said, "9-1-1!"  (Grandma does not know what 911 means at all, which makes the whole thing that much more remarkable). When Marzi spoke to her, Grandma answered, "Well, I just can't believe that!"  And Marzi answered back, "Believe it!"

The struggle: how much do we do to fix and protect? How much "help" is really robbery? How much does dignity depend on independence? Our decision has always been to err on the side of not helping in favor of the satisfaction of Grandma being able to handle as many aspects of life as possible. But sometimes that tact has been hard to hold. The more we do for her, the less she remembers how to do. She doesn't like it when we do some things for her, but she loves to be waited on, too.

It will not get easier.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Simple Me

I wrote this response on a Donald Miller blog post. His posts are always good, and provide lots of thought-snacking. This particular one is aimed, although not explicitly, at the furor over Rob Bell's new book, which most people haven't read yet. In spite of that little fact, everyone's chiming in.

My response fits many faith-arguments around today. What do you think?

My mother is 92 years old, and she’s more like a child than ever. Nothing is very complicated anymore. If it is, she doesn’t have time for it.
The older I get the more I chafe at the anthropocentric complexities of the good news. If God, sovereign and incredible, communicates to humanity, broken and finite, it only makes sense that he does so simply.
I don’t think I’m lazy, or anti-intellectual, or simple-minded. But I’m weary of taking something that is to be believed with child-like faith and making it so complex and confusing that it’s not-fit-for-toddlers anymore.
Mom believes Jesus. She anticipates seeing him soon. None of this stuff matters to her at all because she is close to heaven. Is it naive to think she’s exactly where we should be?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Grandma Tales

Grandma B's Nouveau Cuisine, Recipe One.

Bean with Bacon Oatmeal

So you've sat in your chair in your room for so long looking out the window that you forgot to come out for breakfast and you're too early for lunch? Not a problem! Try this savory brunch treat!

Get out your oatmeal, like you do every day. Get out your oatmeal/soup saucepan. Forget for a moment that you got out your oatmeal and that you haven't had breakfast and start your lunch, like you do every day. Open a can of Bean with Bacon soup and pour half into the pan. When it comes to a boil, remember that you haven't had breakfast. Find the oatmeal on the counter and pour the usual amount into the soup. Bring to a boil.

Pour mixture into a bowl and enjoy! (Grandma ate the whole thing!)

For dessert, try Honey in a Spoon.