It’s Always a Good Time to be a Preacher

The white clapboard church with a dry, weed-infested front lawn was between preachers, happy to find anyone to anchor the pulpit for a Sunday . . .

I don’t recall much about my first intimate sexual encounter. It’s shrouded in the haze of years. Any attempt to recall that experience only dredges up, like mud from a river channel, the remnants of anxiety, excitement, and guilt.

How can the memory of intercourse be so murky while preaching my first sermon remains vivid? Less guilt? More witnesses? Probably. But even more—and here therapists could have a field day with me—I’ve made immense efforts to forget that particular woman. I married her, and we divorced a handful of years later. The legal papers contained rational sentences that described our parting as, “amicable.” I suppose it was friendly, but mostly I felt awful.

Forgiving accompanied forgetting, with more emphasis on the latter.

I recall my mother telling me that giving birth was extraordinarily painful, but immediately forgotten when my older sister, and then me, and finally my younger sister was cradled in her arms. “However,” Mom added with her trademark humor, “if I would’ve remembered how horrible I felt, we’d only had one child.”

She smiled.

She was lying.

And telling the truth. Continue reading →

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No One has Ever Introduced Me as a White Preacher

Candlelight vigil in Charlottesville*

I do not have any close friends who are black.

Which is hyperbole.

Which is true.

As a white, European-American Caucasian, I’ve had friends, colleagues, fellow students, and neighbors that were red, brown, yellow, black and white, and all precious in God’s sight**. And precious in my sight, too.

And yet, as a pre-teen kid who once watched TV, riveted by the shaky black-and-white images of fire hoses aimed at fellow citizens, and attack dogs released into Birmingham, Alabama crowds at African-American men, women, and children, how many close friends did I have who were black? And this question also, right now, over a half-century later: while viewing the high-tech drone footage of a Dodge Challenger accelerating into a crowd of Charlottesville anti-Nazi, anti-white supremacist, anti-hate protesters, have I ever had a deep, heartfelt relationship with someone who is black?

Birmingham, Alabama – 1963

You probably have.

Not me.

I was raised in the California ‘burbs of the 1950s and 60s. When looking back at the school pictures, from Kindergarten through high school, I see a sea of white faces. Mine. Others. Nearly everyone. In high school’s four awkward years, there was one black family: the Bakers.

When is our world view—what I think, based on what I’ve seen—fixed and established? At what point are personal values—my beliefs, my prejudices, my codes of right vs. wrong—embedded within us? I’ve read that before the fifth candle on the cake is lighted, most of our personality has been formed. In our first years, who raises us and how we are raised, literally makes all the difference in our selfish, selfless, grave-bound, graceful lives. Continue reading →

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Inadequate Words on the Absence of God

How often have I referenced God’s presence and absence? I’ve preached those words in tandem, enamored with how melodic they sound in a sentence. I’ve also cast them onto a computer’s screen, as if skipping two similar rocks across a digital pond.

Presence is a bright hope. Sensed. Glimpsed. Believed. Trusted. Calling. Comforting. Inspiring.

Absence is a dark place where the furniture has been rearranged. Or in a darker space where there is no furniture, no sense of size or shape, entry or exit.

I usually link the two two-syllable words because one makes the other safer. I try to please myself, you see. I try to please (or is it appease) anyone listening or reading, you see. When absence and presence are used, and especially when the climax of the sermon or essay is God’s presence, I conclude with an upbeat message and then vamoose for the nearest door.

My experiences with God’s presence have been fleeting but real. Those few—but precious—encounters authentically inform my words. And yet, my Holy moments or seconds are chump change compared to others. There are those who have had profound experiences with the Holy. They have humbly and regularly sensed God’s presence. What do I really know of Mystery? Continue reading →

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