Church

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?

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Church

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.

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Church

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.

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Church

Resolve

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?

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Church

Return

The battle in our house the last week of holiday is around the return to school, whether it will take place today, the scheduled return day thanks to the 11 day teacher strike in October, or whether Daughter will get to wait til Monday to go back, as the calendar said before the strike. Her mom and I are in agreement that it’s today, and there’s no debate. Daughter . . . well, you know what Daughter wants.

She insists that none of her friends will be there. “School is not about your friends.”

She complains that her vacation is being taken away. “You got 11 days of vacation in the middle of the fall semester.”

The battle surges and subsides. It was heated on December 30 during a 12 hour drive from Kansas, but by the morning of New Years Eve Daughter had conceived of a weekly meal plan and grocery list she wanted to shop for, so I figured she’d made her peace. By nightfall, January 1, she’d packed her lunch and laid out her clothes for school. The fight fought back after 9:00, no new argument, only new resolve.

This morning she’s up on her own and has deployed that breakfast she planned. She’s currently showering. All signs point to school, but there is still time for one last volley.

Pray for students returning to school.

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Church

Cyrus

I added a couple of silly audio clips to my adult education class presentation on Ezra last Sunday. I knew full well that most participants wouldn’t get the joke, but I was more-than-a-little delighted by it: slide title, “Cyrus The Great,” cue audio clip of “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus; then later, same slide title, bullet point “Cyrus conquered Babylon,” cue audio clip of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus).

The joke was only there for my entertainment, and I hope that’s okay. That class was but one of four responsibilities that morning, and the gag was kind of my halfway marker, a high five to myself (it’s less impressive in action, but here it is. Also, click here to learn all kinds of great Bible stuff from my colleagues).

If our work doesn’t delight us, how will it delight anyone else?

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Church

Slack

You know what I don’t need added to my plate during the week of Christmas? Collecting a urine sample from a cat. Figuring out why the vacuum cleaner has no suction. Internet service going on the fritz. If these minor complications to my daily routine could come back in about a week I would be most appreciative.

All the slack is taken out in these days leading up to December 25. Your schedule and your patience are taut. Yet things are just as likely to fall off the table this week as they are in August. And it is no less true in December than the rest of the year that the interactions and responses that may matter the most and might have the greatest impact could be the ones not on the calendar.

It seems that we need to get good at responding to the unanticipated when everything is already full, not only when we have the slack to absorb it.

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Church

Sermon Length

Interesting Pew study on sermon length here, with a quotation that’s got under my skin.

Author and Pastor Tim Keller says this about sermon length: “Most evangelical preachers aren’t good enough for a 39-minute sermon.”

I feel like this is exactly backwards. Brevity is a better measure of impact than length. I have preached many a poor sermon that suffered from a lack of editing and that would have been greatly enhanced by the skilled removal of hundreds of words. And I have witnessed sermons that exceeded 30 minutes in length only by multiplying illustrations of the same point and slowing down delivery to a laborious pace for the sake of em . . . pha. . . sis.

On the other hand, some of the most powerful sermons I have experienced were shorter than 15 minutes. An economy of words and a careful deployment of the most pertinent illustrations made their impact direct and specific.

In actuality, most preachers aren’t good enough for a 10 minute sermon.

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Church

January Didn’t Go Away

You get so focused on Christmas Eve, Christmas, even New Years Eve, and you focus so intently on all of the church and family responsibilities associated with those dates, that you can lose sight of what comes after. Yesterday I got an email reminding me of something due for the worship service on January 5th. I hadn’t forgotten it. I never accounted for it to begin with.

As weighted as the holiday feels, it’s not the end. January is right behind it.

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Church

Judy

My colleague Judy Watt retired, and yesterday was her last Sunday leading worship. I shared the following with the congregational meeting dissolving her pastoral relationship with the church.

I want to be more like her in the years of ministry I have left.

I have had the privilege of serving alongside Judy Watt for just shy of four years now, and it occurs to me that my experience of this church can’t be disentangled from my experience of Judy; I’m not the only pastor on this staff for whom that is the case. And though the time we have spent as colleagues here represents a short interval in Judy’s fruitful career of ministry, it has been very significant to me. 

I have had in The Rev. Judy Watt a joyful, at times even playful, colleague. The demands of ministry are many, and they are often heavy, and yet Judy reserves space for whimsy and for spontaneity, and that, for me, has often meant the difference between a bad day and a good day. Against her better judgment, Judy has agreed more than once to be conscripted into some juvenile shenanigan–almost as frequently as she has initiated one. 

I think this levity is one of the things that has lent Judy’s ministry here authority. You sense it even in the way she leads worship, when she calls us to the prayer of confession, for example, with words we all know, words she has uttered countless times. Yet every time she savors the words. Not a one comes out carelessly or automatically, still less dramatically. They are the church’s words, but we have also known them to be irreducibly Judy’s words, to us, spoken with a pleasure and a care that is deeply authentic. 

But you do not mistake levity for frivolity when you work with Judy. In my early days and months here, whenever I would feel unsure about how to interpret some unique aspect of our life together—some quirk in our very full calendar, for example—I found myself taking my cue from Judy. Very often without saying a word, Judy embodies the right posture, the appropriate posture, toward people and circumstances: not silly, but also not stifling in its seriousness. She has taught me how to regard this extraordinary context for ministry, often unaware she is doing so. 

And there have been times when she has taught me quite aware that that’s what she was doing. Just two weeks ago I wore my little rectangular nametag on my stole during worship—I don’t know why; I’d never done it before—and the following Tuesday Judy made a point to come to my office to tell me I should not do that, that it was distracting. A minor thing, for sure, and from a less mature colleague such a correction could have felt petty. But coming from Judy it was kind (of course it was kind) and it was clear. Such is her way, and I was more the once the beneficiary of it. 

I have learned from Judy’s voice, not only when it has been directed to me, but far more frequently when it has been addressed to you, as it was from this pulpit this morning. I have learned by watching her with the Deacons, with the staff, and even with her family. This congregation has been well-served to have you as one of its ministers, and I count myself fortunate that, though for only a few short years, I got to be one of them with you. You have no doubt earned a fulfilling retirement, and that is my prayer for you, for Dave, for your kids and grandkids. Blessings and God speed.

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