Monday Morning Quarterback

That thing where the seven year-old begs to go with you to the Christmas breakfast at church and then refuses to eat anything but mini cinnamon buns.

That thing where your colleague, the Head of Staff, crawls around on the sanctuary floor during the Children’s Time bleating like a sheep, unprompted.

That thing where a church member gives the seven year-old a paper bag full of cosmetics that belong to her young adult daughter, who now lives in Texas, and the seven-year old spends an hour organizing it all on her vanity as soon as she gets home.

That thing where several people ask you how your preparations for moving to Chicago are coming along and you have to acknowledge that you haven’t even bought your plane ticket yet.

That thing where the seven year-old, watching The Phantom Menace, puts two and two together and pegs Anakin as Darth Vader.

That thing where you buy your plane ticket to Chicago.

That thing where your struggle to think of a white elephant gift to take to the youth Christmas party is solved by finding the white elephant gift you brought home from last year’s party, the cookie-in-a-cast-iron-skillet that’s been sitting in your pantry for 12 months.

That thing where somebody steals the white elephant gift your brought. Win.

That thing where you’re playing Taboo with high schoolers and the clue is “bikini,” so you just say “pass” and throw the card on the floor.

That thing where you watch two episodes of “The Leftovers” before going to sleep.

 

 

 

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Monday Morning Quarterback

The chancel lights aren’t working.

The candle holders on the Advent wreath are wobbly and can’t be tightened because the screws are stripped. They’ve been stripped for three years at least, yet another late November Sunday finds us surprised, stuffing bits of paper towel down the sides of the candle cups to try and stabilize them.

The crew renovating the meeting room left all of their equipment–ladders, a Shop Vac, light fixtures, blinds, and–no joke–a large traffic cone–in the youth room. There’s a Sunday school class in here in 20 minutes, yet the place looks like a construction site.

There’s one student at the Sunday school class.

The Fellowship Hall has no running water.

The hay bail we procured for a Children’s Time prop is heavier than we expected. Also, it’s making a mess of the narthex.

During the service, one of the guest musicians abruptly steps out, phone in hand. Her friend is here, and she has shut the bathroom stall door on her finger and can’t get it out. The paramedics have been called.

When Sunday morning goes to the dogs, what have we got? We spend a disproportionate amount of time each week making plans for this one hour, and there’s a host of forces lining up to undo those plans. What then? And what about Thanksgiving week, when the bulletin is printed early to accommodate staff travel, so that by Sunday morning you’ve forgotten key pieces of it?

When you screw up, what then?

Then the faithful gather. Voices are raised. Good News is shared. Prayers are offered and blessings pronounced.

Worship is an event that depends to a much smaller degree than I care to admit upon my plans for a production.

Thanks be to God.

 

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff we learned on Sunday

Youth Sunday, I now realize, is as much about the adult congregation as it is about the teenagers. This annual ritual is a chance, yes, for teens to plan all the music, to lead all the prayers, even to preach the sermon, but it is also a chance for the grown ups in the pews to hold those teenagers in their moment of risk and vulnerability.

That is a momentous thing to do.

It is as if we say to these moms and dads, Sunday school teachers and octogenarians all, “Here, do this: for the next hour concentrate as hard as you can on these kids and channel every ounce of grace and courage you can to them, for they are trying to summon the divine for you, and that is dangerous business indeed.”

The church is always, I’m finding, up to this task. It is hungry for it.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff we learned on Sunday

Youth Sunday used to be on Mother’s Day in my congregation. After repeated complaints from a small sector of people whose own children were no longer youth, I changed it. Now Youth Sunday follows Mother’s Day by one week.

So the Sunday for planning Youth Sunday is now . . . you guessed it: Mother’s Day.

This is so much worse than having Youth Sunday on Mother’s Day in several ways. Fewer youth participate. My neighbor chastises me for taking teens away from Dear Old Mom. The mother of my own child sure as schnitzel doesn’t appreciate it.

Effective next year, I’m changing Youth Sunday back to Mother’s Day.

Of course, Youth Sunday is one of those pieces of church life that always feels like an outdated exercise. Parading teens in front of the congregation one Sunday a year can be an excuse for not pressing their role as worship leaders on 51 other Lord’s Days, or it can be a platform for gimmicky shenanigans in the service of cuteness.

These are my fears every year as the day approaches. As I negotiate a “Happy” Call to Worship energizer and patiently explain why students may not sing “The Misty Mountains Cold” as an Introit, I am 100% convinced that I am presiding over a farce. And then Youth Sunday comes, the teens are earnest, they connect with the congregation, the gospel is proclaimed, and the church is built up. I go home ashamed to have doubted them.

So, yeah, next year it’s on Mother’s Day again.

Monday Morning Quarterback

The pride I feel at my six year-old daughter’s ability to entertain herself in my office for hours while I’m in meetings splattered across the bathroom baseboards with her sick. On a day that featured two separate 90 minute meetings following morning worship, she spent the last part of the second meeting silently enduring a raging headache, and so when I found her she was in tears. She sobbed, “I don’t feel good” and promptly puked on her shoes.

Thing is, there were at least two additional hours of church activities on the day’s schedule. I called those off and took her home.

(Note: she’s fine. A little children’s ibuprofen and an hour long nap were enough to perk her right up and make her demand scrambled eggs for dinner)

The two parent working family is a mixed bag for kids. I have spent more than my share of indignation on the suggestion that kids are harmed by the arrangement; they’re resilient, these tiny humans, and I’m convinced they benefit from having two parents who are both engaged in important work. I have spent nearly seven years with a puffed out chest at my ability to bring my kid along to work commitments, not to mention her prodigious self-reliance.

Yesterday was a sharp pin to the sternum. It showed me the shadow side of my kid’s composure. She suffered in silence to the point of sickness. Now I wonder, how many of those long stretches in my office have been miserable for her? How brave a face has she been putting on things?

Just because kids are producing the behaviors we want in an arrangement we desire doesn’t mean they’re not suffering.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on Sunday

Read text messages more carefully. “So” can sometimes look like “or,” so make sure the text from a fellow parent stating the time she’s picking up your kid says “I’m leaving here at 7:00 OR 7:15” and not “I’m leaving here at 7:00 SO 7:15,” so that she doesn’t arrive at precisely 7:15 to find your kid undressed and unfed.

Don’t be that parent. Sending a plastic cup filled with goopy oatmeal for your child to eat in someone else’s car is kind of a chump parenting move. Don’t be that guy (I am that guy).

Sleep in later. You will never arrive early enough on Sunday to enjoy 30 minutes’ practice in the sanctuary free from the frantic setup efforts of the Weekend Custodian.

Let up a little. The Weekend Custodian is learning, as evidenced by his offer to close the sanctuary doors for you so that you can work.

Check your office voice messages at least once between Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning. It’s no fun finding urgent pleas for pastoral care on your voice mail three days late.

Move. Don’t have that pastoral care conversation directly in front of the office door.

Account for separation anxiety. You will be mentally some place else while leading worship if your spouse is also at work and your six year-old is 40 miles away running through mud without you.

Check the translation. If you’re telling a Biblical story using, say the Common English Bible translation, check with the preacher to see which translation her sermon is using. One translator’s “Right” (John 10:18) is another one’s “Power,” and there are interpretive miles between them.

Always say yes to the joke. Even the same joke you heard from this person last week, the same person who always has a cat joke for you. Never jump the punch line, though you’ve heard it 16 times. Always laugh. Always.

Know some things. That way, when a concerned worshiper earnestly inquires after the well being of church members, you will have something useful to report about at least one of them.

Know your opponent. If you come at @chadah on Twitter over the #royals, you will lose.

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Spread the word. Reply All is worth listening to. Every time.

Get a coffee. The six year old’s delay in returning form the mud run is perfect cover for grabbing a Perfect Pair from the best coffee house in America. 

Take heart. Your kid’s friends’ parents are really good people who will go out of their way to take care of your kid and help you out.

Avoid eye contact in the grocery store. Especially with that parent whose toddler is throwing a world beater of a temper tantrum in aisle six. You’ve been there.

Use the Force. This is the day to show the original Star Wars to your progeny.

Take heart (again). Your neighbors are the kind of people who make drinks for your spouse so she can put her feet up after a long Sunday at work.

Relax (a little). Daughter seems to have mastered bed time on her own. For today at least.

Monday Morning Quarterback (Or Things I Learned At Joke Night)

Stuff I learned on Sunday Saturday

Roughly 40 people participated in Joke Night this weekend. It was a really fun thing to work on with a courageous and creative team. These are my initial takeaways from the event.

People really own their jokes.

People are walking around every day with at least one terrific joke in their head. We spent a lot of time in preparation copying jokes out of a book and cutting them into categorized boxes so that people who don’t feel like they know any good jokes would have one to read, and a few people took advantage of our preparation. But most of our joke-tellers came eager to tell the one or two jokes they know really well and have been telling for years.

Story jokes win the day

I envisioned an evening of short jokes told in quick succession, but the jokes people told were overwhelmingly of the narrative type.

Laughter is medicine

(Everybody says that, I know; I once bought my wife a T-shirt that said, “Actually, medicine is the best medicine”).

Telling a joke and being rewarded with a room full of laughter is a kind of restorative magic that everyone deserves to experience. This was at the heart of the idea for Joke Night, that, in the words of its creator, it would allow people to “shine.”

Even courtesy laughter achieves a kind of placebo effect.

Jokes are inter-generational 

Two of my favorite moments of the evening: a man in his 80’s masterfully telling that long joke about the guy who orders three drops of whiskey at the same bar every day (look it up), and a six year old (okay, my daughter) gleefully pronouncing the punchline to the “What’s-the-last-thing-that-goes-through-a-bug’s-mind-when-it-hits-a-windshield” joke (“His butt!).

Bathroom humor won’t kill you

There was a moment when someone used the word “asshole” in a punchline, and I froze. It was funny, though. There was a “fart” joke and an impotence joke, and nobody stalked out in indignation.

Clean, family-friendly humor was on the marquee, but that’s a slippery standard. A couple of off-color jokes don’t ruin the event, as long as they’re actually funny.

Jokes thrive in community

I’m excited to see a community of joke-tellers emerge and carry on Joke Night, because so much of what I enjoyed about it was seeing people I know well shine in a way I never saw them shine before. Most of the people there knew each other from church, and that, I think, made the jokes easier to laugh at.

There were non-church folks there as well, and for them, too, Joke Night was a chance to experience their own community; they sat together and got up to tell jokes together.

Of course, a couple hours of laughing together makes a community out of a room full of strangers. Maybe joke night is building a community.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on my vacation

If you can put your work completely out of mind for a time, then how much of a hold does your work have over your imagination?

I took a four day vacation with my family last week. I struggled to stop thinking about my work, about particular people and projects, long enough to be completely present and to fully rest. By the fourth day I gave up the effort and instead allowed myself to think work thoughts. I made mental lists and conducted imaginary conversations. That was truly relaxing.

If we’re lucky, we get to do work for a living that we can’t stop thinking about, even if we try to.

Monday Morning Quarterback Easter Edition

Stuff I learned on Sunday

The pageantry of Easter is for everyone who is there, including those who are only there on Easter. The brass ensemble and “Hallelujah” chorus are not especially tuned for worshipers who also were there on Palm Sunday and the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Worship leaders experience a mixture of excitement and sadness on Easter and Christmas Eve, because we know that this energy will not be back next Sunday. But shouldn’t we take a more wholistic view of our church’s worship and ministry? Over the course of a year, over the course of several years, countless people encounter God in our worship services in ways we don’t control, and that many of those peoples’ experience is limited to one or two special Sundays during the year does not diminish its impact on their life, I don’t think.

The presence of the risen Christ seems palpable on Easter Sunday. Joy bursts through the doors. That is an unqualified gift for all who assemble, but next Sunday, when the kids in smart dress are playing soccer again, Christ will still be present, in the sanctuary as well as the soccer field.

Hallelujah. Amen.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on Sunday

The plea for help doesn’t wait until you’re not doing anything else before presenting itself. Christ’s call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked comes while we’re fighting a paper jam in the copier.

Our ability to show compassion can’t depend upon being mentally ready and free of distraction, because 1) when are we ever really free of distraction? And 2) the world’s needs aren’t on hold when we’re busy.

The hour before worship on Sunday morning is one of the most distracted and preoccupied for pastors, and yet that is precisely the hour when a congregant needs to tell you about their medical tests and a couple of strangers arrive to ask for gas money to get to the hospital. The sermon isn’t finished, the Sunday school presenter can’t figure out the dvd player, and yet high school youth are arriving the morning after learning that one of their classmates committed suicide.

The dvd player is much easier to fix than adolescent grief. The temptation is strong indeed to throw oneself into it.

But if we’re not ready to love our neighbor in these harried moments, then I don’t think we’ll be ready in the calm ones either.