Tag Archives: church

Touching others until the last day

I struggle with going to church. Even when I like my church, I often find better things to do with me time. When I go, it’s a bit like exercise. I drag my feet and look for available excuses. Once I go, I’m glad I went. So, I’ve been thinking a bit about why I don’t want to go. It all boiled down to one thing: the prayer time.

A lot of churches have an open microphone time where folks can get up and share their concerns and ask for prayer. It is a nice way to show care to every person in the church. Once in a while these times have been inspiring and moving. So why don’t I like it? Because most of the time it is not at all inspiring. Most of the time it’s a long litany and rarely it’s the actual person speaking. Far too often the person we are asked to pray for has at least two or three degrees of separation from anyone I even remotely know.

Then there is this other little problem and it’s a logistical one. The person says everything that’s wrong and even what they want in the prayer.

“Pray for Aunt Millie that she may be comforted during this time of healing from goiters,” The person with the microphone says.

That’s bad enough because I’m certain few of us in church know Aunt Millie, and in a world where two billion people don’t have water, it’s hard to work up much angst for goiters. But then the preacher has to go ahead and offer the prayer for Aunt Millie’s comfort and we hear it all again.

I can’t help but think God is as bored as I am during these times. She’s not a Genie in the Bottle for goodness sakes. If prayer is our way of spending time with the divine, something about this show-and-tell seems far, far from it.

This is highly, highly uncharitable. I know that. But it doesn’t change how little purpose I feel during this time, which far too often stretches far too long until I’m counting minutes of my Sunday I’ll never get back again.

Even writing about this makes me feel like a cad, but the truth is I don’t like the prayer time and I have strong doubts God does either.

Then again, every time I think I know what God might be up to I get a flying spiritual hammer-kick to the heart to remind me that I am not God and have no idea what He thinks and feels.

Example: The other day I reached out to a woman who years ago–decades really–was in my church. Last year, her son died of a heroin overdose and her mother’s day post on our Criminal U website was a wrenching, honest, powerful, must-read devotion to honoring her son and using her incredible grief to encourage others suffering from addiction (please go read this and like it and support it if you can. The more people who read it, the better).

I have thought of her often and simply dropped her an email to tell her so. She wrote back about how she’s learned grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Every time I try to offer her support, she ends up offering so much more to me. This was no exception.

She told me how she received a condolences card from a woman named Roxie. She and I both knew only one Roxie in our entire life. She was the woman who every single Sunday without fail got up during prayer time to ask for prayers for a host of strangers. More than that she would write these people notes of encouragement and enlist others to do the same. I never liked it when she stood up, but I came to appreciate her heart for every person under God’s great sky. Anyway, I’ll let my friend tell the rest of the story:

Mom told me that Roxie had passed away and that it must be from a different Roxie. I don’t know any other Roxies. I researched and discovered that Roxie had passed two days after Tyler. She must have written this sympathy note before she passed, and it was just now sent by whoever found it on her desk. The timing of this card was Divine and knowing that brings me the most comfort of all.

I read this and my heart just twisted into a knot. Roxie and Tyler are both ensconced in heaven but here her prayers and notes keep right on blessing others.

I opened the attachment and knew that handwriting as sure as I know my own. I had received my share of cards from Roxie in the day. I had been asked to sign even more, cards she wrote to any number of people and simply wanted me to add my name to in support and to show the person he or she was not alone during their time of hardship.

20150617_190238

I hadn’t thought of Roxie for so long, but she was one of the good ones. A rare gem with a heart so big she couldn’t not stand up every Sunday and ask for people to prayer for every odd distant person out there who was suffering. Her faith was so big she had no doubts that this was what the church was supposed to do and in doing it, God was alive all the more.

It pained me to think of her loss even though I am one of those so distant people in her life now. But it amazed me… knocked me stupid silly to know that to the day she left to go over to the other side, Roxie kept reaching out, praying, sending notes of God’s love.

I’m ashamed of my immaturity by comparison. I can’t say I’ll ever enjoy the church prayer time, but I know I’ll shut the hell when it comes to thinking I know how God feels about it.

I leave you with more wisdom born from the pain of a mother’s broken heart, the wisdom my friend left me in her email:

Blessings and Love to you and yours, and remember to hug your loved ones tightly.

Amen.

 

Why must we so often live up to our stereotypes?

The Bride, the Youngest One and I didn’t hesitate when an acquaintance named Craig asked for volunteers to help cook a meal for about 120 food insecure neighbors, especially when he stressed we could simply eat with them rather than serve them.

The community meal is hosted once a month by an iconic San Francisco church. I didn’t know anything about the church, but I knew I wanted to cook for that many people and I wanted to hang out with them. The chef had attended the month before and took feedback what they’d like for a meal. Almost all said hot, filling and plentiful. He decided gumbo over rice would be perfect.

We arrived at 3:30 p.m. and started prepping huge boxes of peppers, squash, onions, celery, chicken, sausage, and bacon.

2015-02-28 16.06.57

A gorgeous light-chocolate-colored roux simmered while the aroma of meats and spices filled the kitchen. Our crew of six worked well together. Along with Craig, the others in our group were seminary students. Being a seminary dropout, I found much to chat about. I soon was moved to onions being one of the few who don’t cry when I chop them.

2015-02-28 16.53.14

The youngest one was on rice duty, feeding 120 cups of rice into two massive rice cookers. She started to get a little stressed when the fuses of the old church kept blowing and precious cooking time drifted away.

Unlike so many type A chefs, Craig simply encouraged and took it all in stride. He helped get the rice going again. I was enlisted to haul the heavy pots to different outlets. The church host went off the fix blown fuses. The Youngest One pulled me over.

“The rice isn’t cooking at all,” she said, the stress mounting.

Ah kitchen stress. It’s a unique kind of thing, sort of cool and sort of nasty at the same time. Craig and I decided our plan to run the rice cookers through twice wasn’t going to work so we started another massive pot on the crowded stove.

2015-02-28 17.05.31

The Bride joined the stirring duty of big pots, including one vegetarian gumbo in the back.

It was a blast.

Until the host servers came in.

Suddenly the old worn cliché came true: too many cooks suddenly spoiled the broth of our pleasant afternoon. A bevy of biting complaints followed from people who didn’t even take the time to introduce themselves.

“This rice isn’t done,” said one self-appointed food inspector who didn’t actually sample the rice, but saw the excess water that simply needed to be drained off because of the intemperate fuses. She had someone else haul the rice back into the kitchen.

“Since the rice isn’t done are we not going to have two serving lines” the designated host snarked to Craig. Craig pleasantly said they could do that or wait another five minutes for the rice.

Soon I overheard the host talking to a server. “Well I guess the vegetables aren’t done so as you serve tell our guests the vegetables are coming in just a few minutes.”

The vegetables in a gumbo are in it. The pot this lookey loo had seen was “extra” squash and onions and peppers we cooked up to bolster the gumbo when seconds were served. Craig had saved $60 from the budget and provided enough food for everyone to have two helpings. Nobody bothered to ask him what was his plan.

The youngest and I checked the rice, saw it was more than done and she helped me drain the excess water off. We carried it back out. Less than a minute later the pot had returned back to the kitchen with another lady saying the rice wasn’t done.

“Scotty can we go home now?” she asked. “I’m done with these people.”

“Let’s just finish our job,” I said. “We aren’t doing this for these folks.”

She agreed.

I simply hauled the heavy rice pot right back out to where it went. As I put it in place one woman asked, “Where’s the sauce. Shouldn’t there be sauce?”

Sauce. On Gumbo. This was the same woman who kept sending food back. A thousand reactions flashed through my mind. I simply walked away.

As the servers started plating food, the host came in and talked to Craig. “Well, I see a problem. Folks are just getting broth and a few vegetables because I guess the meat is at the bottom.”

Craig looked stymied. “Uh… The servers just have dig into it to serve it up,” he said.

“Well, instructions weren’t given. Now some are going to have more meat,” he said.

He left.

Craig was genuinely confused.

“Craig, these people have absolutely no idea what gumbo is,” I said.

The thought struck him as both true and amazing. He’s from the south. How could you not know what gumbo is?

Craig looked at me and shrugged. “We are here to serve God and his people, not be praised.”

“Thank God for that then,” I said.

As we cleaned up yet another lady came in and started asking us where we had put the compost bucket.

“We filled it twice,” Craig said. “I’m not sure.”

“But compost items are in the trash,” she said, with an accusatory point. I had been cleaning food out of the sinks to start the dishes and had put the food waste in the trash can.

Craig started to explain again that we were simply in the clean up stages now.

“I guess it can’t be helped now,” she said, walking off.

Someone else came in with a plate of food and handed it to one of our team, I guess to eat standing in the kitchen. She tried to hand one to Craig.

“No thank you. I’m not really hungry,” he said.

He handed it to me.

“Craig, thanks. This looks and smells awesome,” I said.

Then I walked outside of the kitchen into the hall and sat at a table of strangers. The Bride and The Youngest One soon joined us. Within minutes we were sharing stories about ourselves. I met a young woman named Tess who was sitting with an older man.

“He told me he hadn’t seen steam coming off food in a long time,” Tess told me. “It was great.”

“Yeah, so great, I just want some more,” the old guy said.

“You get seconds,” The Bride said.

The youngest one hopped up. “I’ll get them for you.”

He said thank you many times. Then The Youngest One came back.

“They said no seconds until after they serve dessert,” she said apologetically.

He brushed it off. “That’s ok. I can wait. I surely do want seconds.”

“Please finish mine,” The Bride said. “I’m done.”

“Oh No…” he said. “I won’t take food off your plate, not with your man sitting right there. That ain’t right.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” I said. “I knew she wouldn’t eat much of it anyway. Please, enjoy.”

“Nope, nuh uh,” he said. “My morals won’t allow it.”

We went on to other conversation. A man came over passing out candy bars. He offered one to The Youngest One.

“No thank you,” she said.

He started to insist. Another man seated next to her who had been talking with his friend about the Id, Ego and Super Ego said, “I’ll take hers.”

“Yes, that’s great,” the youngest one said. “What kind would you like?”

The server cut her off. “We don’t do that here,” he scolded. “I’m not kidding.”

The man started to apologize, the youngest scowled. The Bride looked at me fuming. I shook my head. Let it go. Let it go.

Eventually they rolled out seconds and the youngest went up to get the older man his plate. She refused to be delayed any further.

2015-02-28 18.09.05

While getting it, the same man that had passed out candy bars chided her for not taking one.

“I don’t need to take a candy bar from these people,” she said. “I’m not homeless.”

“So you think homeless is bad thing,” he said. Her face turned red. She walked away, but made sure she brought our new friend a plate of food.

As we ate the church host came over.

“I heard from Craig that you all in the kitchen felt unappreciated,” he said. “I am sorry. You did an amazing job…”

“It’s fine,” I said. “We are fine. We are glad to help.”

I noticed those we were eating with exchanging glances, like those awkward looks when you really aren’t privy to a conversation happening right in front of you like you weren’t here. He tried again to apologize.

“Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate that. We can let it drop.”

Thankfully he moved on.

We finished, said our goodbyes and went back to find Craig. He ate out of a paper bowl with his friends around him. They all looked a bit sad. The host found Craig and again tried to apologize. I considered asking him what exactly he was apologizing for but in the end decided to let it go. This wasn’t our place, our meal, our scene. We were just helping out. We wouldn’t return.

One of the people eating food wandered into the area where we all sat.

“Man, that food was delicious,” she said.

Craig glowed.

“Finally,” he said.

It’s amazing what a sincere thank you can do.

Craig asked The Bride if she had fun. She said mostly. He asked her if she’d do it again.

“I’d love to do it in another neighborhood sometime,” he said.

“We’d cook with you again in a heartbeat,” she said. “But maybe not here.”

On the way home we all had a lot of talk about. We processed the events of the night. I sincerely worried that the youngest one’s enthusiasm for community and service would be doused. I shouldn’t have worried. She loved the cooking and loved the eating, she said, which more than made up for the brief middle ground of those who made her feel stressed out and insecure.

We compared the attitudes we saw among the servers to the attitudes of those being served. The cliché of liberal elitism had rang so true. I hoped it wasn’t so. In theory these were my people: liberal Christians determined to be genuine light and salt in the world by their actions instead of soapbox preachers and ardent evangelicals.  But in practice we were something very different. We saw things and people differently. Perhaps back in the day, back before the sobriety and the scandals and the failures changed the lens from which I view life, I wouldn’t have noticed these differences.

We talked a lot about stereotypes. About the labels. About the actions of people from all sorts of “groups” who infuse harmful stereotypes with energy simply because they act in a way that reinforces them.

I felt myself letting it all go. An attitude of gratitude, of honoring people no matter who they are, of forgiving those who don’t even know they need to be forgiven, and of service for the sake of simply serving goes a long way to fixing the mental images that make a good work seem bad.

Because of the generosity of those same tiresome people who didn’t even realize how offensive they can be, more than 100 people received a massive plate of delicious gumbo, including The Bride, the Youngest One and me. Most even got seconds.

The rest was just noise.

P.S. Thank you Craig. It was delicious.