Service of the Passion (Twelve Gospels)- Greek Orthodox Church

So this is going to be interesting to write. I want to walk the line of being respectful to the traditions of the Greek Church and actually going through how I felt during the service.

So I went to the church after work and I was one of the first people in the nave (chapel or sanctuary would be the relevant Low Church term). I got to watch as folks came in to sit down. Some of them went to the front of the nave and sort of bowed in front of each of six icons (pictures) on the front wall. I see after some research this wall is called an Iconostasis and separates the Nave from the Sanctuary (different from Low Church sanctuary). Some bowed, touched the floor, and crossed their chest three times at the middle four icons, then only once for the outer two. After the bowing and crossing, they kissed the icon. Some only bowed and crossed once prior to kissing the icon. This was very interesting to see.

So at exactly 7pm, the service starts. It starts without introductions of any kind. Two men just started with chanting and I am virtually certain they were chanting in Greek. I had no idea what they were doing. I wouldn’t find out for about an hour and a half, but there were books in the foyer (Narthex if we’re being technical) that lays out the service word for word. VERY High Church tradition. So they chant for a little while longer, read some Psalms which were numbered in the book, but they didn’t announce which Psalms they were reading. After a fair amount of singing/chanting in Greek and English, I start to hear bells.

Once again, I have no idea what is going on. After 30 seconds or so, the Priest (I think he was the Priest, certainly a clergyman) comes out from the Sanctuary carrying an incense burner. I don’t know what this was called. It was handheld and looked something like a small kettle. So he walks all around the nave with this and goes back into the Sanctuary. He then opens some doors in the center of the Iconostasis, called Beautiful Gates, and sets up a podium. He begins the first Gospel reading, I wish I had a copy of the book that we all used, there was something very specific that he said prior to every Gospel reading. I remember part of it was “let us be attentive.”

The first Gospel reading was quite long, being the better part of four chapters in the Gospel of John. He finishes this reading and the folks in the choirs, two men on one side of the Iconostasis and one on the other, start reading and chanting again, in Greek and English. After they have started the chants, one of the men who had been standing on either side of the podium lights one of twelve candles that are in front of the Iconostasis. There were twelve, seemingly for the twelve Gospel readings, but I am not sure of the significance. This procedure, minus the incense, went on for the next 4 readings. After the fifth reading, however, something different happened. The priest came out again with the incense and walked around the Nave. After going back into the Sanctuary, he and others begin a procession out. There were two of the candle bearers in front carrying fans, a man behind them walking in reverse carrying a thurible, a chained incense burner, behind him is the priest who had been doing the readings carrying a large cross (about 7-8 feet tall) with the image of Jesus Christ nailed on it, behind him was an older man in a different set of ecclesiastical vestments.  They walk around the entire nave as we all kneel on kneelers behind the pews and then place the cross in the center of the church in front of the Iconostasis and Beautiful Gates.

After this, we started with more Gospel readings and each of these took place in the same manner as before. Priest would read, candle would be lit, choirs would begin chanting other parts of the service. It should be noted, I forgot to mention this earlier, that the priest chants/sings the entire Gospel reading each time. Very, very interesting. Eventually, the Twelve Gospels were read to the congregation and the service was concluded with a liturgically defined prayer.

So, what did I learn? Well, this service was three hours long, first. There was no preaching of any kind. It was simply High Church readings of the Gospels with various interludes. The Gospels told the story of the last day of Christ. From the Last Supper, to His trial, to the cross, and finally to being placed in the tomb. The manner of service was quite unnerving at first because I lacked a liturgical book to follow along with the service. While this was certainly different, it was indeed spiritual. I honestly don’t know the symbolism of everything that went on. Once I had a book to read from and follow along, it became easier to follow. I’d actually like to get a copy of one and read it over again. Being from a church that is effectively a Low Church tradition, this was a very unique service. One day I may go back and try to sit through a more routine service. But overall, I had an enjoyable, if quite befuddling, evening.

WrestleMania and Theology

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend Eric and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.

The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.

The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.

Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.

Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in my Intro to Theology course was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is an unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.

 

Ministry Matters™ | Blog | On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”

Ministry Matters™ | Blog | On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”.

On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”

Being a self-identified, Bible-loving evangelical, I am often asked how conservative Christians should relate to the LGBT community. Despite my general lack of interest in these conversations, I find myself always being asked one “what if” question after another.

  • What if my gay friend wants me to make a cake for their wedding?
  • What if I throw a party and my gay friend wants to bring his/her partner?
  • What if my gay friend is getting married and wants me to attend?
  • What if the gay person at work wants to be my friend? When should I make it clear that I’m against their lifestyle?

When it comes to such questions, it’s amazing to me how much a relationship can change the tone of the inquiry. When coming from a Christian who has a friend or family member who is gay, there is often a desire to be faithful to their moral convictions but also be faithful to their relationship with their friend or family member. But when coming from a person without said relationship, there’s a higher percent chance that fear or anger will be an undercurrent (though this is not always the case, contrary to popular opinion). Nevertheless, at minimum, without a relationship, ethical abstraction or emphasis on principles can sometimes short-circuit mercy.

In both cases, whether a friendship exists or not, I’m inevitably asked the question,“Don’t I have a responsibility to tell gay persons to ‘Go and sin no more’”?

The following is my usual answer to that question. Please note that herein I am not attempting to change anyone’s mind about their ethical position. I am beginning where people are and am trying to push the conversation forward in a healthy way. You can judge whether or that is accomplished.

First, we need to take a quick look at John 8:1-11* to help us with an answer, as that’s the actual passage where Jesus tells a sexual sinner to “go and sin no more.”

John 8 opens with a group of theologians coming to Jesus holding a woman caught in adultery, the punishment for which is the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:22). And these theologians have chosen stoning as their mechanism of death. Further, as if that’s not terrifying enough, they actually force her to stand before the crowd gathered at the temple. They do not merely want her to die, they want her to be shamed.

They bring her to Jesus in order to test and see whether or not he will be faithful to scripture. They want to know if he’ll be biblical. Will he remain faithful to the text? This is exactly why they remind him of “what Moses commanded,” as if Jesus didn’t already know that. They want to see how Jesus’ comments will contradict God’s word, so they then say to Jesus, “Now what do you say?”

Jesus doesn’t even initially respond. He simply bends down and writes something in the dirt. Then he says, “If any of you are without sin, you can be the first to throw the stone.”

Putting their stones down, these men walk away, from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus is left standing with the woman all by himself.

She is on the ground before him, but he stoops down and lifts her up.

Through a couple questions he makes her aware that her accusers are gone and that no one—not even him—is condemning her.

Only then does he finally say, “Go and sin no more.”

Now, how does this oft quoted text help us understand when conservative Christians should feel free to tell their gay friends to “go and sin no more”? Here are a number of observations:

  1. Notice Jesus stood up for this clearly guilty woman before her “justified” accusers. Everyone knew she was guilty of adultery, but Jesus actually stands up for her, anyway.
  2. Notice Jesus puts his own life at risk for her. When a group of angry religious people are literally about to enact the death penalty, it takes some extreme bravery to stand between them and a person who is objectively guilty of violating a biblical law.
  3. Notice Jesus is more concerned with pointing out the accusers’ sin than in pointing out her sins. He wants to show that they are sinners, too. They think their sins are of lesser offense to God, but Jesus is pointing out that he’s not too concerned with “who has sinned worse” than someone else.
  4. Notice Jesus establishes, first, that he does not intend to condemn her. And that no one, therefore, is able to condemn her.
  5. Notice Jesus takes the time to lift her up off the ground – a symbolic action of great compassion. He is literally pulling her up out of the dirt and mire of all that condemnation and shame. She is a person, not an object lesson in biblical ethics.
  6. Notice Jesus does all this publicly, so that everyone can see that he does not condemn her.
  7. And notice, therefore, that Jesus has earned the right to then say to her, “Go and sin no more.”

So, if you’re a conservative Christian and you’re concerned with when you need to tell your gay friends to “go and sin no more” here are a few things to do first.

  • Stand up for your gay friends. Stand with them over against even other Christians who would use the Bible to shame them.
  • Put your own life and reputation at risk, if necessary. Christians ought to be the first people standing between gay persons and Westboro Baptist Church and the like.
  • Understand, for all your desire to tell your friend that s/he is a sinner, they already know what you believe. So believe me, without you telling them of your moral convictions, they’re already well-aware. They’re more concerned with whether or not you’ll love them anyway.
  • Be sure to make just as passionate a stance against the sins of God’s people. If you’re just pointing out everyone else’s sins, but you’re not equally passionate – if not more passionate – about pointing out the sins (especially the sexual sins) of the church, then you’re being a hypocrite. This hypocrisy costs the church moral authority with people outside the church.
  • Let your friend know that you know you don’t sit in the judgment seat. They need to hear you say that you are not their judge, jury, and executioner.
  • Don’t make an ethical object lesson out of your friend. This is a lot easier if you’ve gone out of your way to make sure that you have a genuine friendship with them. It’s hard to make an “object lesson” out of someone you care about.
  • Do not be ashamed to show affection and compassion publicly.

Then, after all that, if your conservative moral principles require that you say something, only then have you (maybe!) earned the right—not to condemn (you’ve already given up that right)—to challenge them to “go and sin no more.” I know that the well-intentioned conservative Christians just want to remain faithful to their interpretations of scripture. And I know they are concerned about appearing to morally compromise. But when I read this passage, and when I see Jesus partying with those society considered the worst of sinners, I can’t help but think that Jesus was intentionally trying to appear to be a moral compromiser. I’m not asking conservative Christians to give up their morals or values. But I am saying that if you have not loved intensely enough to at least appear to others that you’re morally compromising, maybe you haven’t loved enough.

Have I missed anything else in the passage that might help push this conversation forward in a healthy, godly manner?

*It should be noted that John 8:1-11 is of questionable origins. Many of our best biblical scholars do not think this story was part of John’s original writings.

Music and Preaching: Talent

Does music invite the spirit into a church gathering? Why certainly it does. But let’s ask ourselves why that is the case. I’ve been thinking about this recently. Back in December, I traveled to a Christmas gathering with all of our local missionaries and the missionaries from half of the Tallahassee mission. It was a very spiritual gathering. Why? Because the men and women who performed were talented individuals. Ask yourself the question: when was the last time you saw someone perform a musical number in church who was terrible? I’m going to say that you haven’t, ever. The fact is folks without reasonable musical talent simply do not play in front of other people…well in a public setting anyway. I would not try to get in front of the congregation and sing a solo. Simply wouldn’t do it. I’m not a singer. A 6th Grade beginning flute player is not going to get up and try to solo How Great Thou Art. He or she would fail. It’s doubtful the bishop or local leader would even consider doing such a thing. Music in church, be it a song sung by the congregation with a piano accompanying them, or an individual singing a song with a violin playing along, guitars, trumpets, the whole deal, is almost always spiritual because there are talented individuals involved in the musical process OR there are enough people to mask any lack of talent, as with congregational hymns.

Consider this, most of us have seen horrible performances of the Star Spangled Banner, Carl Lewis and Rosanne Barr come to mind. Were either of these folk’s members of our congregation, would we ever consider asking them to sing one Sunday? To be sure we would not.

Why then, if we know with near certainty that we would never ask someone without musical talent to sing or play for the congregation, do we, rather often, ask folks with virtually no speaking talent to preach? Something doesn’t add up. Think about it.

Homeless LGBT Youth in Utah

Every now and then, I read something that makes me angry. It’s not often, but it happens. I read this statement on Facebook today:

From Marian Edmonds Allen, my dear friend and Utah’s very own Mother Teresa:

My letter to the Editors of the Deseret, Tribune and Standard. Enough is enough. Usually it is one youth every 2 weeks. Not this week.

To the Editor -

I am writing to ask Church leaders and members to help with a crisis in Utah. In the past five days, there has been a huge increase in newly homeless youth asking our center for help, directly or through others. 
These youth have some things in common, and some that differ:

They come from four different counties, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Cache and Box Elder.

Each youth is currently attending high school, or trying to find a way to continue attending high school. One slept in the snow in front of her school this week because she had no place to go.

The youngest is 15 years old.

Each youth is lesbian or gay.

Each youth is from a Mormon family. 

There is help to keep families together, regardless, and perhaps ESPECIALLY because of faith. With the support of all of us in Utah, children can be safe, at home. Church leaders and members, please share this message with those you know. Every child deserves a warm, safe home.

If you need to tell your child to leave his or her home, there are host families through the Safe and Sound Program (SafeandSoundUtah.org), including active Mormons, who will keep your child from sleeping in the snow or being assaulted on the streets. If your family needs someone to talk to, please ask for help, or access information online from the Family Acceptance Project. 

FIVE children in five days. Not acceptable. 

Sincerely,
Marian Edmonds Allen, BS MDiv
Executive Director, OUTreach Resource Centers

I’ve taken a little while to think about this. I’m still angry. It’s virtually certain that I don’t know any of these kids. It’s also virtually certain that I do not know any of the males or females who want to think they are parents. These people are not parents. These males are not fathers or men. These females are not mothers or ladies. Parents, fathers and mothers, do not throw their kids out into the street. These people are just pieces of crap.

We like to ask the little question of “What Would Jesus Do?” Obviously I don’t always know what Jesus would do, no one does. However, I think we can all agree that Jesus would not throw one of his children out into the street. You know what else I’m fairly certain that Jesus would not do? He wouldn’t go over to one of these male’s homes and kick him in the teeth. But I’d sure like to do it. Like that? It’s called truth. Truth is, this makes me angry. If more people got angry when they read this, you know, the people who actually go to church with and live next door to these jerks who throw their kids into the street, something might change. Why do we accept this? Is this really what Christian folks do? Sit by idly while our neighbors throw their kids into the street. Because that’s what we are doing. We’re doing it every day. It’s time we stopped. Stop enabling these males and females. They’re pieces of garbage and deserve to be treated as such. Reading this and don’t like what I wrote, think I’m too harsh? I don’t care. This is quite restrained from what I’m thinking in my head. Have a nice day.

Book Review: Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I should start this by saying this will not be a Mormon guy writing some review bashing Rev. Bolz-Weber for daring to disobey Paul’s council on ladies in the pulpit. I have mixed feelings about that little passage anyway. Nor will this be judgmental because she doesn’t fit some arbitrary standards of what is normal; what is “normal” anyway? No, this will be a review of a book written by a person willing to lay out all of her imperfections for the world to see and while I might not go so far as to say she’s proud of all of them, she’s certainly not ashamed of them. This is a review of someone who has written about a lot of the things that I see when I look in the mirror. This is a book about truth.

I’m going to share a few passages from the book, but not too many because, well, Rev. Bolz-Weber might not like it if I write a review that causes folks to *not* buy her book because it’s all right here.

First, a passage that hits really close for me: “Much later, in my mid-thirties…I realized that what I really wanted…was to be a pastor to my people….But there was one problem with my being a pastor: I’m a lousy candidate. I swear like a truck driver, I’m covered in tattoos, and I’m kinda of selfish. Nothing about me says ‘Lutheran pastor.’ So I was scared. I was scared about the fact that in order for me to be the kind of pastor I would want to be, I would need to look at some of my own personal stuff, which I was perfectly happy ignoring. I struggled with the idea of being a spiritual leader. I struggled with knowing I don’t really like emotionally needy people and, given the opportunity, I will walk the other way if I see them coming. I struggled with being available to people all the time when really I’m slightly misanthropic.” (Bolz-Weber, 16-17) This is pretty close to being word-for-word my story. I felt the prompting to ministry/chaplaincy later than some at the age of thirty. I want to be a pastor to “my people,” that being service members. I also most certainly don’t always like needy people and I’m misanthropic. It’s great for me and other up and coming ministers to read something so honest. Statements like these show that not everyone who ends up in ministry are the ultra-caring, extroverted people, but that some can be the introverts who, given the choice, would just let people go the other way.

Second she talks about her experience getting sober: “Getting sober never felt like I had pulled myself up by my own spiritual bootstraps. It felt instead like I was on one path toward self-destruction and God pulled me off of it by the scruff of my own collar, me hopelessly kicking and flailing and saying, ‘Screw you, I’ll take the destruction please.’ God looked at tiny, little red-faced me and said, ‘that’s adorable,’ and then plunked me down on an entirely different path….I’d get a life back, a rich one I’d never have chosen out of a catalog,.” (Bolz-Weber  Of course this passage is written today with years to reflect upon what happened, but in some ways, I can see myself writing something like this in a few years. I really have no idea why I feel drawn to the ministry, at least not one I could say with full confidence. But I figure that one day I’ll look and see something great and probably not what I would have picked out of the Sears catalog.

Next we have a short quote that comes from a rather long and involved story involving another minister in the Lutheran church who was removed from the ministry. Rev. Bolz-Weber was considering leaving the Lutheran church and her husband said: “There’s not enough wrong with it to leave and there’s just enough wrong with it to stay,’ Matthew later told me. ‘Fight to change it.” (Bolz-Weber 52) While I have not considered leaving the LDS church over any given issue, it’s not because I do not disagree with things, ESPECIALLY cultural things. It’s just that I go straight from dislike to speaking out and trying to change it, skipping over the threatening to leave part. Folks, we all disagree about things with our churches. Speak out about it. If you think members of your congregation are not friendly, call them out on it. If you’re tired of hearing once a month about doing service but never actually doing any, call folks out on it and try to change it. With the issue that prompted the above quote, I suspect Rev. Bolz-Weber was very vocal in trying to make the change. We can all be the people who demand the change that is proper.

Here is something she does in meetings with new members of her congregation, it’s quite a dose of reality, and one that I wish we would say out loud: “I tell them that I love hearing all of that and that I, too, love being in a spiritual community where I don’t have to add to or take away from my own story to be accepted….But…this community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss.” (Bolz-Weber 54-55) I wish we’d be honest with people (adults) on baptism days that they’ll be disappointed by the church. Because they will. Let’s be honest with missionaries that they’ll probably come off their mission as cynics who see the difference in talk and action in the vast majority of members. I wish we would challenge people to stay around when things happen that they don’t like and, as I said above, have them fight to change those things rather than leaving.

She then goes into a chapter about her work in a hospital for a Clinical Pastoral Education internship. She reflects on some traumatic situations and eventually says “I was the chaplain, but I didn’t have answers for anyone….words of wisdom I had none. I just felt the unfairness of it all….I would stand by and witness the disfiguring emotional process we politely call grief and, yes, I was aware of God’s presence, but I wanted to slap the hell out of him or her or it.” Now that’s realism. Beyond the quaint things we like to say about suffering and misfortune, we come to this. We ask why and we want answers. I wrestle with this often and will likely continue to wrestle with this. I’m coming to the conclusion that suffering is something that simply happens and is neither caused nor prevented by God.

There is a good chapter in the book about how we should take in the people who do not fit in our standard group. I wish we were better at doing that. Another chapter deals with Rev. Bolz-Weber’s disappointment when she planned a big event and only twenty-six people showed up for it. This chapter hit very close for me because I can see my reaction being much the same as hers. Eventually she sits and thinks about it and realizes that it was a very uplifting time even if she was initially disappointed. She goes on to describe her general feelings when she has to meet people and this one hits very close to me: “I tried to muster up the interest and stamina it takes to greet each person with the honor he or she deserves. This always feels like a battle between my misanthropic personality (I don’t actually care about you) and my values (you are a beloved child of God who deserves to be heard) and it’s exhausting.”  (Bolz-Weber 111) There are many times that this exact statement fits me.

She moves along and there is a small passage that shows that she has little use for Pat Robertson in the context of the Haiti earthquake. She also talks in this chapter about the fallacy that God causes suffering. Interesting stuff.

The best chapter to me deals with her experience in church after having preached an Easter devotional in front of 10,000 people. Obviously she had numerous visitors to her congregation the next week. It needs to be noted that her congregation and ministry is more or less geared to what we might call the “outcasts” of society. I don’t like to use that word, but it’s true. The ministry is geared to recovering addicts, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, other queer folk, hippies, and other folks that society generally marginalizes. Basically after the devotional, she had a bunch of “middle America” people show up to church and she is not shy when she says that it bothered her at first that these “normal” folks were coming to ‘her’ church. Eventually she had a change of heart and a friend told her: “You guys are really good at ‘welcoming the stranger’ when it’s a young transgender person. But sometimes ‘the stranger’ looks like your mom and dad.” (Bolz-Weber 184) This might be a post for another day, but I’d ask that you turn that statement around for the LDS church. We’d welcome the middle aged man in business attire all day long but how would we welcome Dennis Rodman? How should we welcome them both?

But at the end of the day her love for the church, God, and Jesus Christ (not necessarily in that order) is apparent. In the last pages she gives this little statement: “This is my spiritual community, where messy, beautiful people come as they are to gather around a story and a table–where truth and molassesy [sic] bread are shared–and it is simply the thing I was meant to do. Once, a seminary student asked to shadow me for two days to see what my life as a pastor was like. At the end, he said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re basically a person for a living.’ I get to be a person for a living. A person who every morning thinks about her quirky little church and prays, Oh God, it’s so beautiful. Help me not fuck it up.

I would recommend this book to anyone considering going into the ministry. It’s a great read and does more to paint a real picture of ministry and the struggles of the profession than most will ever write. She often exposes herself to criticism in the book and might have even irritated some of her parishioners with what she wrote. I think she’d take the realism all day long. It’s refreshing to read something so real and truthful.

Tribute to Al Jones

So this past week my uncle died suddenly. Certainly it was out of the blue. Apparently he’d worked on Monday and Tuesday and then it happened on Wednesday. I got to see some folks this week that I haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years. Bummer how these things happen. I figured I’d come on here and write out what I spoke on today at the service.

Nahum 1:7- The Lord if good. A stronghold in the day of trouble.

Certainly we’re all sad today in our own ways. We lost a good friend, or a teacher, or a family member. Someone we’ve known for many years. But let’s remember all the good times we spent with him. Remember all the days spent over on the banks pitching horseshoes; we know he loved shoes since everyone so far has said something about it. Remember the days and nights spent sitting around the bar in his kitchen having drinks and swapping lies.

One story to share was a real happy day for him and the family. Happened just over nine years ago. I was working with him during my winter break from college. I needed to get off at lunch time this particular day; maybe a dozen people know why that’s the case. A couple hours after that, I was at my grandparents house there on the same street as Al. I looked out the window and see Al’s truck go driving by at about 75 miles per hour. About two minutes later, we see Sherry’s Jeep zip out of the garage. I’m pretty sure they were driving 100 miles per hour by the time they got to the end of the block, both of them with huge smiles. They drove a long way that afternoon and evening and I’m sure they were driving faster than the speed limit the whole way, I probably would have too. That was the 27th of December 2004 and they were bound for Charlotte, doing everything possible, legal and probably illegal, to get there in time to see Bentley when he was born. And they made it. I’m not sure either one of them has stopped smiling in the 9 years since. 

Let’s remember all the great things he did and all the great times. Remember the guy that would help you out all the time, the guy who would drive six hours to be with family.

I stopped by the store a few minutes ago, got a little something I figure we can all appreciate [pint bottle of Crown Royal]. Top shelf only.

So, Al, here’s one for you…’Go rest high on that mountain. Son, your work on Earth is done.’