In Between Times

I wonder . . . what Christmas do you remember?

No, no, no – I’m not talking about when you were a kid and there was that special toy or the year you were ten and skated in New York’s Rockefeller Center and the night was magical or when you surprised “Santa” near the tree as he (er, your father, brother, uncle) munched on the peanut butter cookies you left while putting a pony under the tree.

No childhood memories, please.

Be a card-carrying adult about it, long past the so-called magic time. After cynicism and weariness arrived . . . and enthusiasm and innocence left the building a decade or more ago. And yet, you still felt Christmas’ deepest meanings…

This is one for me . . . as I started working at my last church, I was leaving a job as a hospice chaplain. The congregation had an early and late Christmas Eve service. But I promised one hospice patient I’d visit her that night . . . and so I drove to her home between the two celebrations. Joy to the World echoed for me. Laughter still resonated from a Christmas Eve children’s sermon. And there was the exhaustion of the season. However, for a few moments, with a mother who was dying and a daughter who cared for her, I sat in a quiet dark house. We prayed. We swapped long ago family memories. I became, in the season of wonderment, I silent holder of hands and whisperer of God’s forever good news. Unto us a child is born, but there is still dying and death. And, with dying and death, there is still a silent night, a holy night, a time and place of embracing others.

I’ll always remember that night. And what of you . . .?

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Visiting Drove Me Batty

I wonder . . . what makes visiting church members so difficult?

Maybe visiting is easy for you (and therefore I’ve already begun to resent you), but it drove me batty. Hospital and emergency visits? No problem. Follow-up on the first-time worship visitor? Easy enough. But it was the general visiting, the checking-in with people that was like soap scum on my to-do list. I’d try to clean the list up, but more visiting lingered.

Was e-mailing an appropriate “visit?” Was a phone call sufficient?

If you’re not a pastor reading this, and therefore on the other side of the door/computer/phone, what do you think? (Don’t worry, your pastor never reads this blog…)

In every church I served, large or small, I could identify folks I “should” regularly visit. Some things worked for a while . . . I made a database and tracked my progress . . . I had my secretary call and make appointments. But most things never succeeded. I know one reason why visiting seemed a struggle. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s LEAVING CHURCH she reflected on people she never knew at the last church she served. At a farewell party . . .

I wound up with a couple I had always thought I would enjoy but whom I never really got to know since they did not serve on any committees and were never, as far as I knew, in crisis. … I did not wonder why I had not sought them out earlier because I already knew the answer. By my rules, caring for troubled people always took precedence over enjoying delightful people, and the line of troubled people never ended. Sitting there with corn stuck between my teeth, I wondered why I had not changed that rule sooner.

It was the same for me. How do we balance the never-ending “troubled” visits with the “delightful?” Or can we?  What do you do?

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