Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Rather Kairotic Weekend

Well, they be back. The stoodints, that is.

Upon our docile, little town they descended and took over like so many leaves upon an October lawn and I'm back to scooping them up on my forty-foot long, six-wheeled diesel-beastie. Nice thing is, we (my new transit employer, that is) secured 14 brand-new International buses, replete with AC, 200-watt Pioneer CD players, individual, bucket and clothed seats (to make it fun for them to puke on during drunk runs), and, best of all, new bus smell (which, incidentally, should be taken care of by the reference in the last parenthetical inclusion) .

After spending most every night this past week prepping for our biggest outreach project of the year, I attended yet another funeral of a pastor-friend of mine in our association this past Saturday. He was found dead in his backyard from a massive myocardial infarction. He was a basketball buddy and a supporter of Veritas in our association among a handful of pastors in a time when such were hard to come by.

This whole weekend was a set-up, and a divine one at that. Friday, we were on campus helping families move their freshman children into their dorms with our dollies and handing out water. I love to watch our people dig into some hot, rigorous manual labor for people they don't even know or won't see again and be filled with joy while doing it, knowing they aren't going to get anything out of it. That stokes me just right. And I love to see the confounding look when these families see that you're there to help them. Sjogren was right. God does show up in these times of simple hospitality.

And Saturday, we had obtained a booth Uptown for the Chamber of Commerce's Annual New Student Day, when all the merchants and organizations in the area get to set up booths and pimp their free stuff to the new students who are given meal vouchers for the Uptown restaurants as a starter. As usual, we had made some hemp necklaces, gave away more water and gum. But this year, Veritas' resident aromatherapist made some soap for us to give away, and that was a fantastic hit.

After that, Cathy and I headed down to LaRue County, Kaintukky for a 205th anniversary celebration at Rolling Fork Baptist Church, our very first pastorate in seminary and verifiably out in the middle of the sticks, so to speak. For three years there, we were loved by the most gracious and patient of people, especially to take on a newlywed pastor-wanna-be who thought he knew more than he actually did. They chucked us full of the most inconceiveably delectable meals and taught us the basics of godly hospitality, preparing us for the work we are currently in now here in Oxford. We just didn't know that at the time. But that was today- Sunday.

For Saturday night, we had planned on staying at the Jailer's Inn, a quaint little bed and breakfast in Bardstown. We found out that the Travel Channel had rated the place one of the 10 most haunted places in America. It used to be a jail and was built in 1819 and was in service until 1987. If you look closely, you can see Cathy haunting the lower right hand side of the picture.

At breakfast this morning, the Innkeeper pulls me aside, apparently knowing from a conversation with Cathy that I was a minister, and asks if I would say a blessing over the meal before 14 other people I didn't know. I knew I was back in Kentucky then. It wasn't that I didn't know them that made me a bit intrepid, but that I didn't know if these strangers wanted some dude in earrings praying to a God that some of them obviously didn't acknowledge. Part of the group were New-Agey ghost hunters, with electromagnetic wave sensors and stories of some kind of activity in their room last night. There were some other "normal" guests (sans meters and such) who had some experience last night, too, it seemed. I kept hearing foot steps upstairs go from one end of the ceiling to the other, but then a toilet would flush, so...

But when the Innkeeper pulled me aside to ask me to pray, she told me she had seated Cathy and I with a young couple. Sure enough, as we ambled to the courtyard, there were our seats with them. They seemed quite young (early twenties) and we immediately began some small talk and they briefly began talking about the fact they were newlyweds (one year) and that their log cabin they were building had just burned completely to the ground. After about a three minute intro into that, Cathy looked at the husband and interjected, ", what about your first born?"

This couple frowned and then looked at each other. The twenty year old lady said, "how did you know about that?". I looked at Cathy. I knew for a fact the guy said NOTHING about a first born. He didn't say anything that remotely rhymed with it in the conversation to this point.

Cathy said she thought she heard him say that.

The guy, looking into his bride's eyes with shared pain, said he didn't say anything resembling that. The young woman looked at Cathy and said, "We just lost our baby boy in January. He was born with a knot in his umbilical." Incredulous, I looked at Cathy thinking, how in the world did you hear that?? But I knew. God sat us there. He spoke that. I don't think they were Christ followers, but they immediately invited us onto their sacred ground.

From there on, this couple poured out their pain and their hearts to us, filling us with their stories of incredible loss. Their brand new house burned to the ground; the insurance company shorting them 100,000 bucks and the loss of a child. We were there to receive their hurt, for God's purposes I suppose, to side with them by divine proxy.

All through breakfast, I watched as my wife listened intently to the young lady, touching her occasionally on the arm in delicate, non-verbal reassurances that I'm sure carried the greater assurances of God's Spirit. It was an amazing thing to watch. I was just glad to be there. I am just ever more convinced that my wife has "it" infinitely more than I do.

Do you ever notice that when God lets people "unload" on you, you become a receptacle for their pain, bearing it in some way? What do you do with it? Well, we still had to drive thirty more minutes to get to the church for the anniversary celebration, which was full (well about 50 people full) of my former parishioners, county judges, state representatives and people I'd never seen before. And I learned that, even after a 10 year absence and after having moved on, you are still a pastor to people. One by one, I took in stories of death, sickness, new life, new hopes and new aspirations as if I had never left.

One couple we were particularly close to caught us on the way out and were distraught and broke down in tears on the front porch of the church sharing about their wayward son and other anxieties. For fifteen more minutes we were God's receivers of hurt. We slung it on our backs, ministered to and encouraged them and prayed with them while a long-winded southern gospel group carried on inside.

Yet, now I sit here staring at arranged pixels on a screen, and I am in touch with a pain that is not mine. God often calls us to take on pain in some supernatural way, I believe, as he imparts grace/healing/respite to those dishing it out. But it is not meant for us to keep. We've got to find a way to give it back to Jesus. The picture they showed us of their still-born infant boy is emblazoned in my mind. It was a picture that was simultaneously both a birth and death record of a life never lived on this earth. Those pictures are ones for which we'll have no need in the coming Kingdom.

I reckon that the pain I feel (though in no way equal to theirs) is sufficient enough to prod me into meaningful prayer for them. And after such a period of time as God sees fit, we'll submit a pain belonging to someone we'll probably never see again back to Jesus. I hope we were faithful today. I know I was blindsided.

Another interesting tidbit about my first pastorate...

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

The above quote was from, arguably, one of the most quoted men in American history, Abraham Lincoln. His father, Thomas Lincoln, was a member at Rolling Fork. Makes you wonder if some of the godliness passed on to ole' Abe was instilled into his daddy there.

Good Country Folk

When this building was built in the 1850's, the men and women entered and sat in separate sides of the church, which is why there are two front doors.

My first mega-church, from afar.

Another way to tell you are in the sticks of good ol' Kentucke; the presence of gargantuan winged scavenger in the roadway.

And, for the Creecher, Extraordinaire...I bet you know where this is.