Saying the Right Things at the Right Time at the Right Funeral

In a chapel at a local mortuary . . .

I had never met the dearly departed.

In my first year of ordained ministry, interning at a church with three full-time clergy, I got the leftovers. Who preached on the Sunday after Easter or Christmas? Why not the kid? With a lone exception, none of the church members wanted the youngster for their weddings. I saw numerous baptisms, but had no hands-on, wet-and-wild-in-the-Spirit moments. They all preferred experience; a minister with gravitas. Being only a Christian witness does have its downsides.

However, there were those desperate calls from families, perhaps tangentially connected to the congregation, searching for a pastor’s help with a funeral.

They’d take anyone.

Grammy died. A favorite uncle died. The mother’s brother’s son’s girlfriend’s step-father died. The church secretary would answer the phone, gleaning enough of the family’s needs to pass them along to the senior pastor. The senior pastor, a fine fellow by the way, might quietly commiserate with the grieving caller. They beseeched him to preside over the graveside service or share kind thoughts at the funeral parlor. Alas, Rev. Senior Pastor was busy on that particular day. But good news! He had a young pastor that would be . . . perfect!

Would they want to talk to said young pastor?

You betcha! Continue reading →

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When the Chosen Become Vulnerable

Once, I confess, the Feds got me.

Did I end up in shackles, accused of poor writing or telling way too many half-truths? Nope. Was it for that little-bitty IRS sleight-of-hand a few years back? Wrong again (and please tell the IRS I’m only kidding). Alas, it’s mundane.

I was summoned for jury duty. Federal Court. The Eastern District in California. Whoa.

Federal Court is different from my local Superior Court. Instead of a citizen lassoed for one week or one trial, the Feds nab you for an entire month. If selected for duty, you’re done with the obligation. (Though who knows how long a trial could last!) If not selected, the Feds are like a bad habit—they keep coming back. Do they want me this week? Or the next? Or the next?

A month can seem a long time. I rarely like to be dismissed, but after a month, I was glad the Feds no longer cared about me!

Another lengthy experience was sitting in the jury room lounge, viewing the “Federal Jury Video” with forty or so other Eastern District denizens. Bring on the popcorn and Milk Duds, it was Hollywood at its worst. For the fifteen loooong minutes, I remained on the edge of my seat, mostly just trying to stay awake. The sacrifices we make to be, er, good citizens!

Jury duty can be like many events in life: wait. Then wait a little more. Continue reading →

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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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