Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm Not Gonna Ask You To Do Anything Weird (But It's Totally Weird)

My church has been in its new location for roughly five months or so, and we had a new pastor doing the sermon, who pulled something out of the Annoying Hat.

Actually, since it was an associate pastor giving a sermon for the first time in front of this congregation, maybe it’s par for the course.  Maybe all newbie pastors everywhere think this is a Really Great Idea, or maybe seminary school tells them that this is a Really Great Idea, and that if we’re lacking in some way, you should really do this Really Great Idea and stand back and watch the God fireworks BLOW UP.

The Really Great Idea Is This – towards the end of your sermon, single out the people who need prayer in a Slightly Awkward way.  Informally known as an “All Call To Prayer.”

Most commonly, the All Call has the pastor call people who need prayer down to the front of the congregation, usually at the end of the sermon, before the music plays.  Other versions of this include the All Call at the very end of service, so that the people who need prayer go forward, and the people who don’t need prayer or wanna go to brunch turn around and exit.  At our old location, they had people go to the sides, which is slightly more private, but depending on your interior layout, blocking major exit lanes.

Normally, our All Call is done at the very end of our service.  Maybe there’s been discussion about numbers, and how people aren’t taking advantage of the All Call and how can we get prayer for them?  I don’t know, I’m just spitballing possibilities.  Because for the life of me, I cannot understand why this particular way of All Call was allowed to happen.

The sermon topic was on prayer, the good old Persistent Widow and The Judge, and the associate pastor giving his first sermon to us in the 9:00 am service phrased his All Call by saying maybe there’s some of us today who’ve been praying for something for years and nobody knows about it and “you just need to let other people what you’ve been praying.” 

Great!  Everyone take out their smartphones and start emailing!  Hot Diggity!  No!

Associate Pastor goes on to list a few examples of what that something might be. Maybe there’s a family member or friend who has cancer and you prayed for their healing and it didn’t happen.  Maybe you’re struggling with infertility issues.  Maybe you feel alone.

And with each example, he asks us to stand up.

Stand up if you had a family member who died of cancer and you prayed for their healing and it didn’t happen and you think God didn’t answer your prayer.

Stand up if you’re trying to have a family and nothing’s working and you feel like God didn’t answer your prayer.

Stand Up If You Feel Alone.

Wha-HUH?!  Seriously?  What in the world is happening here?

Needless to say, less than ten people stand up (to be fair, I couldn’t see the balcony from where I was, maybe the whole balcony stood). Less than ten people want to admit their family member died of cancer, or they have infertility issues, among other things.

I am gobsmacked.  If the associate pastor thinks this is a Really Great Idea, he is Really Really Mistaken.

If these people need prayer, why are you asking them to be public about it?  If they fall in line with your scenarios, and are hurting, grieving, confused, scared, why are you making them stand up in a public arena? They don’t need publicity, they need privacy.  I’m hurting, grieving, confused, scared, let’s go ahead and add EMBARRASSED on top of it.

He asks the prayer team to go to the people standing up, and pray with them, but it is SO so strange, and SO so weird.

Later I go to the online archive on the church’s website, where they normally put up the 11:00am service, I’m slightly relieved to see that the associate pastor changed his methods slightly.  This time, he had everyone stand up, and then asked the people who needed prayer to raise their hands.  “I’m not going to ask you to do anything weird,” nope, he just wants to single you out.  That’s not weird at all.

Is it weird to think privacy is important here?  Is it weird that this type of All Call carries an undercurrent of If You’re Not Willing To Take A Risk And Admit You Need Prayer, You Might Not Get It?  Because that’s what it feels like.  Raise your hand! Admit you need prayer! Go public with your need! What if I don’t want to? Then… who knows. You might never!

This kind of thing happens every two years or so.  In fact, it happened at this church at our old location in 2011.  That was also a new pastor.  It also didn’t go well.  You think they would learn.  Nah, this time will be different!  Raise your hand for prayer!  C’mon, do it!

Yeah… um… no thanks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Proverbial Foot In Mouth

So I can put my proverbial foot in my mouth just as much as the next person. It happened just last Sunday at church, as a matter of fact.

My church tends to front load their songs at the beginning of the service, so they'll sing four or five there, and two or one at the end.

I personally feel like this is way too much singing.  The songs themselves repeat a bunch, and by the time I get to the last song, I am done.  Just done.  Done, done, donsie.

So I've started timing it to where I get to church right around the last song before the message. I can sing one song, no problem.  I enjoy it more when it's one song.

Last week, when I was walking across the parking lot, a friend called out to me, so I headed over to talk.  He noted that I was coming in a bit late, and I explained how I try to time it so I miss most of the songs, because "I think we sing too much."  He smiles and says, "I don't think we sing enough," and then I remember that he plays guitar and was probably playing lead guitar today, which he does confirm.  

Hello proverbial foot, say hi to my mouth again.

I smile and say I’m sure he rocked, since I've heard him play on other occasions, and more small talk and then I'm off to hear the message.

And I was slightly bashful and ashamed.  Because the guy automatically wins all the Holy Points.  Not just because he was playing lead guitar in a church, but because he thinks we should sing MORE.  Because he's THAT awesomely Christian.  If we sang for two hours, he MIGHT be satisfied.

And over in my corner, I think we sing too much, I time it to where I miss the bulk of the songs, the only thing I had going for me was that I was honest about it, and not making up some kind of horseshit about how I couldn't find parking (I couldn't, but then I did.)

So my friend wins the Holiest Game (even though he wasn't playing it) and I'm an asshole.

So I felt bad, kinda.  Sorta.  But then I thought, you know what?  I'm done.  I'm just done.  Done, done, donsie.

If I think we sing too much, I think we sing too much.  I'm gonna OWN it. I'll be happy to start timing it, to see how many verses we have, how many times we repeat the chorus.  I'll figure out exactly when my tolerance level is hitting the breaking point.

Because this is me.  I'm not trying to rabble rouse, and petition the pastor, or the elder council or whoever to change things around for me. I will work around them. This is my opinion.  I don't give a shit how unholy or how unChristian it sounds.  God knows all of this about me, and never once in my Christian life has He changed to my heart to where I felt we needed to sing more.

I don’t think we need to sing more.  I will continue to miss as many songs as I'm comfortable with.  Should I find myself in conversation with someone who says we need to sing more songs, I will smile and say, “Isn’t it cool we disagree?” I’m not going to nod in assent. I’m also not going to make anyone feel bad.  Including myself. I refuse to be embarrassed anymore. 

And I think God loves me anyway.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

It's Been A Year

It was this day last year that my dad died. The Southern way would be to say, "He went to be with the Lord," but I've already done a blog entry on the whole "went to be with the Lord" nonsense and the passivity of it all...

I did a blog about the immediate aftermath of my dad's death/passing, and I've done blogs since about the moments that show up where I miss him deeply.

So the actual one year anniversary comes around and I find myself without any new emotions to attach to the date. My emotions, when they show up, rarely are on a logical calendar (the exception being frustration, which I don't think is an emotion, but runs alongside most of my days like my own personal racetrack rabbit) , so I wouldn't be surprised if we get to some random Arbor Day calendar day and WHAM, I'm berefit.

As it happened, circumstances put me back in Huntsville last weekend for a brief visit. And I suggested to Mom, the Former Phone Harpy That Needs A New Nickname that we should visit Dad's gravesite, as I hadn't seen the headstone yet.

So we drive to Maple Hill Cemetery, established in 1822, home to 5 former governors, 5 former United State senators, something like 80,000 souls, and now my dad.

My parents, ever the pragmatic ones, bought the plot way back in the 1980s, when the cemetery sales rep did a sweep and practically signed up the entire block. You might think that's ghoulish, and yet, depending on the website you're on, the cemetery's sold out, or not sold out, but only has room for cremation. So who's laughing now, right?

I remember the weather last year as being somewhat grey. There were bursts of color here and there, but I remember it being overall damp and muted.

But this year was crisp. Crisp and glorious. We're driving through the cemetery with its narrow roads, past history and headstones and memories.

If you go to grade school in Huntsville, you are guaranteed at least one or two class field trips where you traipse through the cemetery and make charcoal rubbings of headstones, marveling between what's showing up on your paper, your pitch black fingers that you better not rub on your clothes or your mom's gonna be MAD, and the fact that you're standing on someone's grave in broad daylight and it's totally cool.

Mom knew the general area where Dad's grave is, so we parked, and went hunting, offering apologies to the graves we were passing by, or accidentally stepping on.

And I finally found it.  It's a little sparse with the grass, which is why I think it's red flagged.  "We paid for the upkeep," Mom groused, and I assured her that I think they're getting to it.

But Dad's current scraggly site (that I am sure they're going to get to soon) aside, my GOD. This is the prettiest place in the world to be buried.  I mean, just look at this view:

Picture perfect blue sky. White fluffy clouds. Glorious fall colors, the likes of which the trees in Los Angeles never turn.  Are you kidding me?

When it's my time to finally bid adieu and finally join God on the couch with TV and tequila, I'm getting cremated and somebody's gonna throw my ashes in the Pacific ocean at sunset (and thank you in advance to whoever has to do that.  I solemnly vow that I will do my best to somehow reach through the afterlife to make that particular day easy for you.)

But if you prefer to be buried, Maple Hill truly is a wonder. As a family friend mentioned later that night at a swanky soiree, local legend has it that there was a prominent businessman who visited Huntsville to determine whether he should move his business to town.  He took one look at the cemetery and made up his mind for pro-Huntsville, as "anyone who takes care of their dead like this, must take care of their people."

I'm sure that statement could be debated a million different ways.  But then I look at this picture... and I don't care.

I'm not sure that Dad would've cared either.  He's currently sitting on the couch with God with his drink of choice (Bloody Mary or Black Velvet Whiskey), watching me, my mom and my sister continue through life.  He's got opinions, sure he does. But he's not in pain.  He's happy.  And he's laughing at the trees and their colors.

And I am happy that he's happy.