Like a boss (a prayer for pastors)

Weekly, dear God,
I think about how to sing you into being.
I flip through books and
also memory
considering broad themes –
Love! Peace! Discipleship! –
or familiar phrases –
“God in three persons”
“Joyful, joyful, we adore thee”
“Immortal, invisible” –
or timeless images –
Mother. Father. Shepherd.

I think about how to sing you into being,
in the body of the faithful,
and the minds of the questioning,
and the voices of the no-place-else-to-go-today,
using the best of what’s available to me.

I want the words to mean something,
and I drift to the familiar,
for the sake of the singing,
and the untrained among the singers,
and for me it works beautifully,
most of the time.

Yet there are phrases,
and images,
and broad themes unexpressed
by classical chords
and texts of another time.

Last night I watched a pitcher
whose mood and work
can be best described as
“like a boss.”

And I wonder, if we sang about
our gratitude as if you were
our hero,
in our modern parlance,
how it might sound.

(No using words like parlance.)

Would we go out
with shouts of joy?
Praise God in the sanctuary?
Ascribe to the Lord?

No.

We need a hero, Lord,
and you save us,
need to hear things over and over,
and you keep teaching us,
can’t get our heads in the game,
yet you keep chucking the ball
right over the plate.
Like a boss, O God.
Like a boss.

****

Partially inspired by Music Sunday, and partially by the following filthy pitch.

 

 

“I still loves ya, Honey!”

Easter 6B/Mother’s Day            May 10, 2015         Acts 10:44-48; John 15:9-17

This Mother’s Day, although I’m sure there will be phone calls from the older children and there is a card from the younger one, the primary mothering relationship on my mind is with a puppy.

Teddy turned 11 weeks old yesterday, and while some things are improving, others are still challenging. He slept through the night last night – yay! But the first thing he did this morning was run off with something he shouldn’t have in his mouth – a very special handknit item – and even though he shouldn’t have it, he just looks so darn cute, it’s hard not to laugh.

We start puppy kindergarten tomorrow night.

The Housebreaking Bible informs us, “Let’s face it. If your dog isn’t housebroken, nothing else matters. Cuteness and personality can win big points for Fido, but his looks and charm may begin to wear thin once you realize that cleaning up after him has become your full-time job.”[1]

He's a good boy when he's asleep.

He’s a good boy when he’s asleep.

I don’t want you to think that he is entirely untrained, or that we are. House-breaking really trains the people as much or more than the puppy. We get into a routine we have forgotten since the last time we had a puppy – 2003 for one of us, never for the other. It feels like having a baby. Most of his seeming mistakes are really our mistakes (don’t stop to find the cell phone; he needs to go out and pee now, or you will be cleaning up a puddle!). I know from experience that the puppy wildness and the small bladder and the long naps will pass, and in time I will have a fine companion who is loyal and steadfast. I remind myself of that with regularity.

I also remind myself that just as we feel frustrated with backward steps, ours and his, God must have similar feelings about humankind. We seem to learn, and then we backslide. We make progress toward peace, and then we go to war again. We become more accepting of one minority group, but we turn back the clock with another. We gain an understanding that care for others matters, but we forget to ground our service in worshipping God and wonder why we burn out so quickly.

I’m grateful that even thought our looks and charm wear thin, we are still God’s full-time job. When Teddy gets wild because he is tired, I stroke him and say gently, “Settle, settle.” Then when he is safely in his kennel, I imagine God saying the same thing to me. “Settle, settle.”[2]

The other feature of our weekend, as usual, was baseball. Yesterday’s Little League matchup had its challenges from the beginning. Our team had only 8 players due to a combination of one kid playing on a travel team, another having a soccer tournament and a third calling out sick. And because fewer players means the good batters come up more often, not only did the team have only two in the outfield, but each time we reached the end of the batting order, we got an extra out, which was tough on the last of our 8 who had been called up to help from Senior Pony.

The bleacher was full of moms, grandmoms and granddads, and little sisters. We like this team because the families are uniformly encouraging not only of their own children but of all the kids on the team. One mom told us how they had already been to a soccer game with an older child, and had witnessed him just missing a goal. “It’s okay, sweetheart!” she yelled to the embarrassed middle schooler, adding insult to injury. She took me back in time to other bleachers, a small set right behind home plate on a field in my hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia.

My brother played on an integrated Little League team, which in the early 1970’s was still a fairly new thing. I don’t know how much the kids thought about it, but for many of the parents, it was their first time sitting as peers with parents of another race. One of the African-American mothers had two boys on the team, one a very good player, but the other… well, let’s just say the coaches had him on the team to get his brother on the team. Their mama, a big woman situated in the middle of the little set of bleachers, would call out every time there was a disappointment: “That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”

Disadvantaged from the start, our team nevertheless held the lead yesterday. The two loudest enthusiasts for our team were both preachers. Not me, I assure you. I am a quiet cheerleader, knitting a sock to cope with my anxiety about the outcome. Knit one, cheer two, I like to say. No, these two preachers are Jack’s grandpa and Will’s mama, both ballplayers themselves, and they have opinions about the coaching and the umpiring, and neither of them are shy to share those thoughts at a good preacher’s volume.

When a bad call almost took the ball away from us at what should have been the last out, a call that went against the first baseman, both Will’s mama and Jack’s grandpa leapt up off the bleachers, about ready to go over the fence. Luckily for the umpire, they held back and quickly turned their attention to the disappointed boy standing near 1st, Will.

“You’ve got this, Will!”

“We believe in you!”

When the next ball was a line drive just past his easy reach, and he caught it and held it, the team dogpiled on him! And the mama and the grandpa high-fived.

We still say Sweetheart, sometimes, or call the now big kid by the little kid’s nickname.

“That’s all right! I still loves ya, Honey!”

This love for and encouragement of our kids is what we want all parents to provide, and I believe it’s what God is always providing for us.

Yesterday I also attended a training for mandated reporters over at St. Paul’s UCC in Mechanicsburg. The presenter tried to help us understand the difference between parenting we might not approve and actual abuse or neglect. Some parents are just cruddy at it, she said. And there’s no law against cruddy parenting.

The forty people gathered, some pastors, but mostly volunteers, chuckled at that, remembering things we have done less than perfectly as parents or youth leaders or teachers. We chuckled, but a little uncomfortably, because we knew what was coming, a definition of behavior that does qualify as abuse or neglect. When we are confronted with real stories of terrible parenting, criminal parenting, we wonder how it can happen.

For every person who celebrates mothers today, there is someone grieving over words of love never spoken, or wishing for love that was less conditional, or to be the kind of mother she dreamed of being. Despite our tendency to make heroines of human mothers, no human person will get it right all the time.

Jesus knew that of course, as he sat with his disciples after dinner on the night he was betrayed and arrested. Abide in my love, he said. This is the last chance I will have to talk to you! Hear this. Live this. I am dying, literally dying, to make this point. My love is sacrificial and total.

We don’t always get it right. Teddy wants to love us, so much that he carries off our shoes to lavish his affection on them, or puts his teeth on us the way he did his littermates. How have we tried God’s patience? What do we tug on obsessively, even when we are not sure why?

“Settle, settle,” says God. I am here, and I love you. There is no greater love, says Jesus, than the love I have for you.

We don’t always do things the way we want to do them. We stand with the bat on our shoulders and think we have our eyes on the ball and imagine it sailing out of the park, but instead it goes foul. We stand ready with the glove, but misjudge the catch. The lesson of the baseball game is to keep playing. Get ready to come to the plate again. Pick up your glove and play another day. Be open to the possibilities.

“That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”

This is the love God shows us all the time. This is the love God commands us to share with others – our children, other people’s children, all God’s children.

God is not an umpire waiting to call us “out.” God is an enthusiastic spectator, wanting us to do our best, sitting on the edge of her seat like a mother at a Little League game, calling out her love for us when we fear we have failed utterly.

“That’s all right! I still loves ya, honey!!!”

In the name of the One who birthed us, saves us and never gives up on us. Amen.

[1] http://www.housebreakingbible.com/wp/

[2] The Teddy portion of this sermon is adapted from a reflection I wrote for 50 Days of Fabulous. http://50days.org/2015/05/backward-steps/

Hard truths (a prayer for pastors)

Lord, O Lord,

Every Sunday somewhere,
hard truths need speaking.

Every day, some places.

And we don’t want to speak them
because we don’t want to know them.
We are afraid they will change us,
make us see instead of turn away,
make us hear instead of letting
our earbuds filter the truth.

But you have called us,
ordained or not,
all people of faith,
to proclaim You,
and like the prophets
we are learning that while
You are love,
You are grace,
You are mercy,
You are not safety
from the world’s judgment,
the rancor of enemies,
the disapproval of friends,
the rejection of family,
or the anger of church folk.

Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Help us to tell the truth about You,
and never to sugarcoat it.

We ask in the name of the One
who gave himself up
to arrest,
to trial,
to death.

Amen.

Charm City (a prayer for pastors)

City Pier, Baltimore

The Baltimore a tourist sees.

The last time I was in Baltimore,
a hot bright summer day,
I remembered why I love it there,
a real city,
with troubles,
beautiful and eccentric,
Charm City.

It’s a place that feels real,
where it’s dirty and pretty,
no pretense,
and now it’s burning,
and kids can’t go to school,
and maybe they are hungry,
wishing for the school lunches
my ten-year-old picks at
knowing there is plenty at home.

And it’s churches feeding people,
feeding children,
and it’s pastors who lead protests,
peaceful ones,
strategizing first,
then taking to the streets,
trying to make a change
where there is so much strife,
with such long history.

Lord, I pray for those pastors,
doing work harder than mine,
no doubt wounded by the scenes
playing out on television,
or running eternally on Vine.
(Do not read the comments
on the Internet, that horrifying
collection of everything hateful.)
They are speaking to the press
and ministering to the people,
and cleaning up the mess.

All I have to do is this:
decide whether to talk about it.
I sit in a safe suburb,
and I weigh the possible reactions
of people in the pews,
or the ones I call my friends,
the ones who watch the news
and see a different story,
or only one side of it.

All I have to do is decide to talk about it.
I’m embarrassed that it feels like a lot.

So I’m praying, Lord,
for the ones with more courage,
who may not have known they had it,
but are working for You now,
clearing away the debris,
trying to clear a way for peace.

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