Monday, March 28, 2011

Too Little Joy

"Ever since there have been men, man has given himself over to too little joy. That alone, my brothers, is our original sin. I should believe only in a God who understood how to dance."  - Henri Matisse

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Promise Is a Promise

Nearly twenty years ago I was pastor of Susquehanna Baptist Church in Independence, Missouri. We lived in a friendly neighborhood with great neighbors, some of which attended our church. Mike and Carol lived just a couple of doors down from us on the other side of the street. Mike helped me build a deck for our home and Carol was Suzanne's walking buddy and close friend. Carol had two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, Michelle and Traci, who began their babysitting careers watching our rowdy boys.

Mike and Carol also had a daughter of their own, a bright, precocious little eight year old named Amy. She had long brown hair in curls and one of those smiles that can make a grown man melt. Amy was like a big sister to our little guys and was remarkably patient with two little boys who only wanted to play pirates. Even at the tender age of eight it was obvious that Amy was exceptionally bright and gifted and her teachers at school had to scramble to keep her occupied and challenged.

I remember the Sunday morning when I baptized little Amy, not much of a chore since the water was almost up to her chin. After the service she came to see me at the door. She was wearing a pretty dress for her special day and her curls were still damp as she gave me a hug. Then, much to my surprise, she popped the question. 

"When I get married, will you do my wedding?"
"Amy, you're eight years old!"
"I know, but I want you to do my ceremony."
"Well, sure I will, if you want me to, but that's a long way off, Amy, and it's okay if you change your mind."
"I won't. I want you to do my wedding. Do you promise?"
"Okay, it's a deal. If you need me and still want me to, I'll do your wedding, Amy. I promise."

Soon after, I was called away to a new place of service. We were able to get together with Mike and Carol once or twice, but it was difficult to stay close. We would catch up a little bit with Christmas cards and letters. So, fast forward eighteen years and imagine my surprise when I received this email from Amy:

Dear Drew,
The time has come for me to rekindle a conversation we had many years ago: I'm getting married, and I'd love for you to perform the ceremony!

Last Saturday I met with Amy and her fiance to make plans for a summer wedding. I was struck by two obvious realities - little Amy has grown up and I am getting old. I was touched to get another hug, this time from a poised and beautiful young woman, now finishing her Ph.D. in English Literature at Washington University. And, I was impressed with the fine young man she has chosen to be her husband. 

I'm looking forward to Amy's wedding and hope to help make it a very special day for her. After all, I promised. And, through all the years, across all the miles and memories, a promise is a promise.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The King Does Come" - Frederick Buechner

When Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his followers cried out, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord," the Pharisees went to Jesus and told him to put an end to their blasphemies, and Jesus said to them, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."

This church. The church on the other side of town, the other side of the world. All churches everywhere. The day will come when they will all lie in ruins, every last one of them. The day will come when all the voices that were ever raised in them, including our own, will be permanently stilled. But when that day comes, I believe that the tumbled stones will cry aloud of the great, deep hope that down through the centuries has been the one reason for having churches at all and is the one reason we have for coming to this one now: the hope that into the world the King does come. And in the name of the Lord. And is always coming, blessed be he. And will come afire with glory, at the end of time.

In the meantime, King Jesus, we offer all churches to you as you offer them to us. Make thyself known in them. Make thy will done in them. Make our stone hearts cry out thy kingship. Make us holy and human at last that we may do the work of thy love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Little Bit of Life on the Farm

I was always a little jealous of my boyhood buddies who lived on farms. My dad was a pastor and my grandpas were both mechanics, one worked on cars and the other one worked on trains. Since we didn't have any farmers in my family, I always looked forward to visits and overnights in the country. It always seemed like a great adventure to me, a chance to get away and get outside and have some fun.

My friend, Brent, must have had a very fun-loving father, because when they filled their big hay barn each year, they stacked the sixty pound bales around a cool series of long tunnels just big enough for little boys to squeeze through. In the deep dark middle of all that hay was a hollowed out clubhouse where we could hide out or plot secret attacks on the other boys or even sleep on the cold nights. Boy, we had some fun.

Another friend of mine, Richard, would often invite his "in town" friends out to the farm for Sunday afternoons or weekend overnights. Mr. Gray would drag us out of bed in the middle of the night and send us out to do the chores before breakfast. I learned about feeding cattle and slopping hogs and gathering eggs. Everybody had a job and everybody helped out. No goofing around until the work was done. Miss Betty always made us a big country breakfast, a real novelty for me, and then some nights we would cook "johnny cakes" over an open fire, a tasty cornmeal pancake that really hit the spot on cool autumn evenings.

But not every overnight had a happy ending. We had some strong-willed personalities with big egos that made winning at anything and everything of ultimate importance. I remember playing army one morning and having a heated argument that went something like this: "You're dead!" "No, I'm not, you missed me." "You are dead, you idiot! I got you! You're dead!" "Am not!" "Are, too!" Time to settle this like real soldiers. Hand to hand combat broke out. No blood, but enough of a fight that Mr. Gray had to break it up and give Richard a whipping right there in front of us. As I recall, we all had to go home early that day and face our own dads. Not an exciting prospect, either.

I remember painting fence posts and riding Shetland ponies and jumping out of the barn rafters into the feed corn. I remember watching the sun creep up over the cornfield in the morning and lying on my back under countless stars at night.

Every little boy and girl should get to spend a little time on a farm. I was blessed with great friends, good memories, and a life lesson or two from life in the country.