Closing Time

“Closing time. Open all the doors and let you out into the world.”

That Semisonic single was released in March of 1998, spring of my senior year in college. From the first time those introductory piano notes trickled through my dorm room stereo I knew what the song was about: me and my impending graduation.

“Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

How could it not be? For 20 years now that song has conjured vivid recollections both of that dorm room and of that supercharged feeling of anxiety mixed with anticipation that visits you in threshold seasons of life change.

“Closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.”

Except yesterday I heard the songwriter, Dan Wilson, explain its composition, and, of course, a 22 year old undergrad features nowhere in that explanation. I texted a friend: “He doesn’t seem to realize that his song is actually about college graduation.” In fact, compared to what’s really behind the words and the production, my private meaning feels petty and insignificant. It’s really lovely. You should listen to it.

“Closing time. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

A reminder for anyone who makes things of meaning for an audience: people are making their own meaning out of your work.


My New Email Hack


After I’ve read it and taken the appropriate action with it, of course.


Not “Archive.” Delete.

I’ve stopped stashing emails in thematic folders. I have a bunch of emails related to the agenda for a committee meeting last October in a folder called “October Committee Meeting.” Why? The meeting came and went, and there is nothing more for me to do about it.

Delete the folder.

If an email remains undeleted, it pertains either to a project I’m currently working on (“January 25th wedding” for example) or it needs some further reply or action from me. A small amount of emails reside indefinitely in a folder I call “Reference.” Anything outside that range gets deleted.

It’s about focusing on what’s in front of me and carrying less.


I'm A Political Operative

I volunteered for my Alderman’s campaign office last night. A wrinkle of Chicago government is that political parties elect “Committeepersons” for each city ward, which is frequently the Alderman, but it’s a separate election. So I spent two hours calling strangers on my personal phone talking to them about a vote I hardly know anything about.

I was there not because I have strong feelings about the 40th ward Committeeperson race, but because my Alderman showed up at my door one night a few weeks ago to talk to me about it and then invited me to volunteer. I said yes, and his campaign called a couple weeks later. That’s it.

I could have just as plausibly been volunteering for his opponent. I first learned of the Committeeperson role and election from her, when she handed me a flyer at a neighborhood festival last fall. Honestly, if she had knocked on my door instead of my Alderman, I might have accepted her invitation to volunteer.

It feels like a mistake to restrict this kind of political engagement to the highly motivated and those deeply committed to a candidate’s ideology. I’m neither. My Alderman is also organizing phone banking for a Democratic Presidential candidate I’m not jazzed about, but that isn’t keeping me from accepting a personal invitation from him to help with something else he cares deeply about, namely my neighborhood. I also can’t really say yet why a resident of my ward ought to vote for the Alderman instead of the lady with the flyers. I suspect I’ll learn more about that from inside one of the campaigns than from outside.

Politics and government are probably best learned by doing.


Youth Officers

Two of the three churches I have served elected and ordained teenagers to leadership offices, Deacon and Elder. The teens are typically older, high school juniors or seniors, and their terms are shorter, one year instead of the standard three. It’s a good practice for youth and the church.

But it is not without difficulty, again, for the youth and for the church. The teenagers elected to these offices tend to be outgoing and accomplished, traits that correlate with lots of commitments and very full schedules; a Wednesday night session meeting competes with theater rehearsal or band practice or studying for Thursday’s A.P. Biology test. The church can feel like the least important of these commitments.

To be elected to one of these offices requires, prominently, participation in a meeting, one with a financial report and motions and seconds. It’s confusing to most new members, and committees are often unaware of the need to interpret both procedure and content to the uninitiated, especially teenagers, whose repertoire of activities is light on these kinds of meetings.

Boards need help to welcome the contributions of teenagers. And youth officers need help to participate fully in the responsibilities of their office. But the office shouldn’t change or adapt to a teenager holder of it; the office is Elder or Deacon, not “Youth Elder” or “Youth Deacon.” The two best reasons to elect teenagers to church offices are to welcome young people into mature church participation alongside adults who are not their family and not “youth staff” and to employ adolescents’ considerable gifts for the benefit of the church. Simplifying the office doesn’t help with either of those aims.


New Year New Music (Or Not)

It’s the first music release Friday worth paying attention to in the new year, and it marks my first opportunity to try out a resolution: enjoy music more than collect it.

Spotify generates a playlist of new releases for me every Friday, and I open it like a kid on Christmas morning. There is also a new releases playlist by the people at NPR music. Then I check music blogs for reviews of albums released today. I spend up to an hour some Friday mornings listening to snippets of songs and deciding to add them to my library or not, to put them in this playlist or that one. It makes me tired, and I often never return to those songs after I’ve sorted them.

I treat music like a compulsive collector more than as a discerning connoisseur.

So, a resolution, at least for this week: no reviews, no new playlists. Listen to songs attentively and in their entirety. Miss things and be okay with it.


Nice Hat

Stepping off a Brown Line train at Sedgwick Tuesday morning, a man was stepping on whose hat caught my eye. It was a stocking cap printed with the label of a Coors Original Banquet beer can. My dad worked for Coors in Golden, Colorado, for over 30 years, and so I have a soft spot for memorabilia featuring the tan cans with that script font.

“I like your hat,” I told the stranger as we brushed past one another.

“Oh. Thanks.”

Seconds later another rider, trudging up the stairs to the platform as I was going down, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey! Go Broncos!” I smiled politely and muttered something like, “Hey, yeah.” He could tell I was confused, so he focused his moving gaze about an inch above my eye line and explained: “Nice hat.” Of course. My bright orange Broncos beanie.

It’s so not much, but maybe unsolicited compliments to strangers for their hats can be a start?


What To Do When You Accidentally Eat A Perfumed Candle

Friday afternoon. It’s getting dark outside my office window. All is calm, all is quiet, the perfect moment to initiate the lovely myrrh-scented candle I got from a colleague as a Christmas gift. Exhale, relax, and lean into work on the Sunday sermon.

The wick is drowning after only a few minutes though. Some of the wax needs poured off. Handily, there is the compostable spoon I used to eat my split pea soup at lunchtime still sitting atop my desk. I tip the tiny candle and the wax pools easily. Only a little drips onto the desk. Back to the sermon for another half hour or so, then blow out the candle, gather my things, switch off the lights, and leave for home.

Sunday morning. It’s as dark as dark gets when I march into the office to make final revisions to my sermon before the 8:00 service. I’ve got my regular Sunday breakfast in hand: a short brewed coffee and instant oatmeal from the Starbucks across the street. Set down my things and lift the lid off the oatmeal to stir in the little almond slivers and dried fruit; there’s the plastic spoon wrapped in plastic they always give you, which is no good. Luckily, I have this compostable spoon on my desk. Perfect. Stir the oatmeal heartily and take a big bite.

You saw it coming, right? The spoon was still full of perfumed candle wax. The texture is off. There’s a clump, only I take it to be some un-soaked oats. Swallow, then notice the candle. Wow, that smells stronger than I remember from Friday afternoon. Like, really strong; I can’t get it out of my nose. I move the candle off the desk. It’s only while stirring the oatmeal again (you know, to get rid of the clumps) that I realize what I’ve done. I’ve eaten a candle.

The oatmeal goes into the bin, of course, but I won’t miss the breakfast because what kind of appetite can you have when every breath, every swallow, tastes like soap? I scavenge through my desk drawers for something, anything, to coat the taste–there are some chocolates, some bottled water, the coffee: nothing works. There’s a tiny nip of a distilled product I got as a stocking stuffer in there, which would almost certainly vaporize wax scent, but then I’d smell like whiskey at 8 am on a Sunday. No good. I vividly consider the prospect of being sick over the side of the pulpit during the sermon.

It turns out that time is what you need when you’ve ingested perfumed wax, in case you should ever need to know. Midway through the service the threat has mostly faded, and the sermon is no longer likely to be interrupted by projectile vomiting, at least not by the preacher.

Careful with the burps though. Those emit perfume for hours.


Getting Blood from A Stole

The Chicago winter is murder on my fingers, in particular my fingertips, which crack and split and require constant coating with creams and lotions. It’s mostly manageable, but leading worship is a minor challenge, since I can’t exactly keep a tube of Working Hands in the chancel, and the hour is sometimes just long enough for a crack to get aggravated. I don’t always notice. So when the Liturgist shared the Peace of Christ with a more-vigorous-than-most handshake, I felt the pinch in my pinky and winced slightly but soldiered on.

It was only moments later, as the Liturgist led the Psalm, that I looked down at my white stole and saw an unmistakable smear of blood on it.

That’s going to be an interesting stain to explain to a dry cleaner.



Here is something for us to incorporate into our resolutions and intentions for the new year: the communities that we live, learn, work, and play in, and that impact our experience in myriad seen and unseen ways–these are not products we consume but projects we help build.

How can we resolve to strengthen those communities this year?