Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More Thoughts On The Call To Ministry

As a college freshman, I visited my minister to tell him I was thinking about entering the ministry. My pastor looked at me and said, "What the hell you want to do something stupid like that for? All day long, people come by the office and complain, complain, and complain."

OK, so I cleaned that up just a bit -- as the readers of the previous post will remember.

I left convinced that I had misunderstood what the ministry was like.

I graduated from college and went to work for the state as a teacher/counselor, working in a prison. Yet, I still struggled with a sense of a calling toward the ministry. One night, as I was walking along, I noticed this bush that was on fire, but wasn't being consumed.

Oh wait -- that was Moses, not me. Sorry...

But I was walking in prayer one night.

And nothing happened.

I simply felt an overwhelming sense of peace that I should enter the ministry. I enrolled in Seminary and was ordained three years later.

It is a great life! I wouldn't want to do anything else .

I get to go to all the best weddings. And I have the best view in the house. While everyone else is looking on from the pews, I stand right in front of the couple. I see them almost overwhelmed by their love for one another. I hear the nervousness in their voices as they repeat their vows. I look into their eyes and see a little hint of their fear as they step into the future. Do they know what they are getting into? Of course not! No one knows the trials and joys their lives will bring. But they start their journey in this sanctuary. In the presence of the church, and in the company of a minister.

I not only get to go to baptisms, I get to hold the baby. I pour water on the child's head and say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." And then the fun begins, or at least for me, as I take the baby up and down this aisle and introduce the newest member of the faith to the congregation. Sometimes they cry -- and well they should, for the life of faith into which they have been baptized has the demand that the child pick up a cross in following Jesus. Sometimes they laugh and smile -- and well they should, for they have been baptized into a faith of joy and comfort.

There is no other life like the ministry. I am there at the beginning of a person's life, holding the infants in my arms and baptizing them. I read Bible stories to them when they are children. I go to youth conferences with them. I teach their confirmation classes. I perform their weddings. I hear their darkest confessions. I listen to their secret fears.

Through the whole spectrum of a life, I am there.

From the beginning, and sometimes to the end.

Being with a person at the moment of death is a sacred experience. I see the life slowly ebb away, and listen to the sound of the last breath, and there are times when the last thing they feel in this world is my hand in their hand.

As far as I know, the only job that comes close to the minister is the old family doctor, bringing children into this world and taking care of them throughout the years.

But when death comes, the doctor closes the medical bag and walks out of the hospital room, while the minister remains behind with the family.

I give thanks for many things in this life -- and among those things I for which I am most grateful is that God called me to be a minister.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thinking Back On Being Called To Ministry

People decide to become teachers, lawyers, engineers, and such -- but when we talk about ministers we talk about how we are "called by God." Sometimes it sounds a bit arrogant, but it shouldn't be. We should all feel that what we are doing is what we have been called to do.

So how does God call ministers?

I was in youth group one day -- so many years ago that I was actually one of the youth. Rev. Keith told us about when he was called by God.

"Well, there I was," he said in his deep Southern accent. "My Daddy was making me and my brothers work in the fields. We were digging and plowing and I was workin' the soil with this hoe. And it was a hot day. Man it was hot. So hot that when you looked out yonder on the horizon, the heat was just a shimmering. I set my hoe down in the sun and took a sip of water from the well, and when I picked up the hoe it was so hot that it burned my hand.

"I looked at the hoe. I looked at the shimmerin' horizon. I looked at my Daddy and said, 'I think the Lord's done called me to preach.'"

We all rolled with laughter.

A year or so later, when I told my pastor that I wanted to be a minister, his reaction was not quite what I had expected. Rev. Keith looked at me and asked, "What the hell you want to do a stupid thing like that for? This is a hell of a job! All day long people come into your office and bitch, bitch, bitch!"

I was shocked! I thought he would say something piously profound. A simple "Praise the Lord, my son," was the least I expected.

Perhaps Mr Keith was trying to be honest with me. The ministry is a more difficult, and very different type of job than most people believe. No one really knows what any job is like until they do it, and the ministry is no exception.

As a high school senior, I thought I knew what the ministry was like. It was writing sermons, leading worship, counseling, and saying to young men who wanted to enter the ministry, "Praise the Lord, my son."

How wrong I was!

Recently I had a severe muscle spasm followed by two weeks of lingering pain in my neck. I finally made an appointment with a massage therapist. While the therapist worked on my neck, he asked that routine question, "what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a minister," I answered. I could feel his fingers stop for an instant.

"Well," he said, "I guess even ministers feel stress."

I wanted to tell him, "Of course we do, you idiot! Don't you know that the ministry is a hell of a job. All day long you have to listen to people bitch, bitch, bitch." But instead I simply said, "Occasionally."

The ministry does have a great deal of stress in it. You deal with families in crisis, terminal illness, death, administering the business affairs of a church, and of course, Sunday is always on its way and you have to come up with another sermon.

When I was in high school and made my visit to my pastor, I don't think I ever thought about what it would REALLY be like to sit in the hospital with a family waiting for someone to die. I don't think it crossed my mind that I would have to bury children. It didn't occur to me that an argument about whether to paint the church library white or blue would be a major theological debate.

I did think about counseling alcoholics and drug addicts and those who were depressed, but all of that seemed to be part of an adventure yet to be. I never really thought about how I would feel to see a parishioner come into my office and point a gun at his head. What made me think that I could do this job?

"If I knew then what I know now" is a game some people play. I don't usually play. But IF I did know back then in Rev. Keith's office what I know now, when he told me that the ministry was a hell of a job, I'd probably say, "Brother, that's not the half of it!"

And yet, I've never thought of leaving the ministry.

In fact, there are times when I have caught myself thinking about how unfortunate it is for those who are not in the ministry. I can't imagine life being as fulfilling for the laity as it is for me.

The Dean of my seminary once told us that no other profession touches the whole spectrum of a person's life as the ministry does. The family doctor comes close, but doesn't quite make it.

The minister stands before a couple and pronounces them husband and wife.

The minister holds the infant born of that marriage and with water, baptizes the child.

The minister sleeps with the youth at sleep-ins and at church camps.

The minister visits the people in their homes, in the nursing homes, in jail, or in the hospital.

The minister holds the hand of the dying.

The doctor is with a person from birth to death, but the minister is also, and for even longer. When death comes, the doctor closes the medical bag and leaves, but the minister remains. No other profession has the opportunities to touch the whole span of a person's life.

The ministry is a great life, and I am grateful that God has called me into this way of life.

I used to ask my son from time to time, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" When my son was five years old, he looked up at me and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up!

"Retired," I said, thinking back to Rev. Keith, who had warned me that the ministry was a hell of a job. But in all honesty, I don't look forward to retirement. I look forward to the next day. I still want to be a minister when I grow up.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

St. Casserole and other bloggers have been responding to the challenge to list your five guilty pleasures. Here are mine:

1. Massage. I love it -- even when I wake myself up snoring while on the massage table. It is a great way to relax.

2. Movie in the middle of the day. This is great, especially when you work in the morning, and have to go back to the church that night. A good break in the day.

3. Not answering my phone. Who says I have to pick it up? That's why I have an answering machine. I don't even bother with caller ID. If it is important, leave a message. Same for the cell phone -- no, make that ESPECIALLY for the cell phone. Phones are invented for the owners benefit -- not the caller's.

4. The beach. It is relaxing and refreshing. I like Hollywood Beach, because the boardwalk is made of concrete, and the restaurants are right there. You don't even have to get sand all over your shoes to enjoy the beach. South Beach also has a nice walkway.

5. Spending the night at Area 51. No, not the UFO place. This is at mile marker 51 along I 75. You can drive off the interstate and drive through the opening in the fence. Drive under the bridge, and you can reconnect with the Interstate and head home. Most people don't know it is there. For a few miles in either direction, there is an old road that runs along the canal. Wonderful place to take a telescope and to enjoy the dark skies with no city lights. I will admit you have to be alert -- gaters and bears, Oh my!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The New World

The family and I went to see the movie, The New World.

"Was that film historically accurate," my son asked me.

"Pretty much," I told him. "The Powhatan women did not wear shirts, the children wore less, and the corn was modern. Corn at that time was about half the size it is today. The romance of Smith and Pocahontas was probably all in Smith's mind -- he was a great self-promoter ."

"It would have been better if it had been more historically accurate," the teenager said.

It took me a minute to realize he wasn't talking about the corn or Smith.

"The movies need more nudity," he said with a grin.

But it was very, very accurate. I loved it, but it is not for everyone.

When the 3 hour movie was over, people got up and left in almost complete silence. Occasionally there was a yawn or a deep sigh of exhaustion.

Part of this appeal for me is that the characters of this film were some of my ancestors. John Rolfe, who married Matoaka/Rebecca/Pocahontas, was my 11th Great Grandfather.

The more you know of the history, the more you will enjoy the film and all its subtleties.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Things to learn about Apostle John and President Bush

I have no idea what this means, but I found it at Reverend Mommy's place and I thought it was a hoot :)

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Apostle john!

  1. Apostle john can be seen from space!
  2. Bees visit over three million flowers to make a single kilogram of apostle john.
  3. There are roughly 10,000 man-made objects the size of apostle john orbiting the Earth!
  4. Apostle john was first grown in America by the grandmother Maria Ann Smith, from whom his name comes!
  5. The first toy product ever advertised on television was Mr Apostle john Head.
  6. If a snake is born with two heads, the heads will fight over who gets apostle john.
  7. According to the story, Pinocchio was made of apostle john.
  8. Some people in Malaysia bathe their babies in beer to protect them from apostle john.
  9. On stone temples in southern India, there are more than 30 million carved images of apostle john.
  10. The pupil of an octopus's eye is shaped like apostle john.
I am interested in - do tell me about

OK, that was fun -- but then I realized all bloggers seem to be typing in their own names and getting the responses.

So I typed in the name of President George W. Bush, and this is what I got.

I love that first one.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about President George W. Bush!

  1. It's bad luck for a flag to touch President George W. Bush.
  2. Tradition allows women to propose to President George W. Bush only during leap years!
  3. President George W. Bush is actually a fruit, not a vegetable.
  4. Banging your head against President George W. Bush uses 150 calories an hour.
  5. Two grams of President George W. Bush provide enough energy to power a television for over twenty-three hours.
  6. Japan provides over thirty percent of the world's President George W. Bush supply.
  7. The fingerprints of President George W. Bush are virtually indistinguishable from those of humans, so much so that they could be confused at a crime scene.
  8. President George W. Bush was the first Tsar of Russia!
  9. The Vikings believed that the Northern lights were caused by President George W. Bush as he rode out to collect warriors slain in battle.
  10. President George W. Bush once came third in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest!
I am interested in - do tell me about

Friday, January 20, 2006


This is my home about this time last year. I was standing across the street, looking at the back yard. I remember thinking I'd take this photo to see how long it would take for the trees to fill out and give me complete privacy in my backyard.

As I say, that was about a year ago.

But a few things have changed.

Hurricane Wilma came and took the trees away.

The roof was badly damaged.

I remember thinking right after Wilma left that we'd been lucky. A few trees were gone. A few roof tiles. It was nothing -- especially compared to our neighbors in New Orleans, Mississippi and elsewhere.

Here's the same view, taken earlier this week. The roof repair is almost finished. The backyard is now in full view of the street in the back.

Everywhere I go, there seem to be scars of Wilma.

There are "blue roofs" -- patched with temporary sheeting.

Look off the Interstate, and you may see a sign still bent from the force of a powerful wind.

Drive into a community, and there may be a line of trees still fallen, uprooted from the ground.

It takes a while for wounds to heal.

I think it is good for scars to remain for a long time. It reminds us of how fragile our lives are. It keeps us from forgetting too quickly the sufferings of our community.

I have a scar on my hand. It is an old knife wound. Most people are too polite to ask about it -- but sometimes a young person who isn't bothered with meaningless inhibitions will ask. I hem and haw and talk mysteriously about it being a knife wound. "It happened about 3 AM one Friday night in a Pizza Hut back when I was in college, when I was living a different sort of lifestyle than I do today."

I leave it at that and let their minds wander.

Truth is, I was managing the restaurant and there was only one other person with me. We were cleaning up -- well, mostly we were fooling around. For some reason we started sword fighting. Yep, with knives. He cut my hand and we laughed. I remember saying, "You know, that was a dumb thing for us to do." We laughed some more, got into a car and drove to the hospital for some stitches.

The scar reminds me not to be stupid.

My sister died when she was 7 years old. She would have been 55 years old this year. When my Dad was in the hospital and he knew he was about to die, he talked about her. You could tell the wounds had healed, but the scars remained. Even though the pain was gone, the scars on my father's soul reminded him of the love he had for that child.

It occurs to me that we have a permanently scarred God.

When Christ rose from the dead, Thomas asked for hard evidence, and he got it. Thomas saw the hole in the Lord's side where a spear had pierced. He saw the nail prints on his hands.

Remember the movie, The Passion? In my mind the most powerful scene was the Resurrection. Christ is cleaned and well groomed. He stands up, and you can see through his hand.

I would imagine that Christ could just as easily have been Resurrected without the scars.

But the scars remain, and I believe they are there by devine choice.

Christ cannot do anything without seeing those scars. He reaches out for us, and the scars are there. He embraces us, and the scars are there. He points to us in judgment, and the scars are there.

They remind Him, and us, of how extreme is His love for us.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Missed Opportunities

For the past few years I have tried to get someone in my family to join me on a trip to Butterfly World. It is in Pompano Beach, and a few years ago I started going there whenever I would have to go to the Office of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida.

It is a wonderful place.

Soft music.

Flowers and well cared for gardens.

Birds in aviaries.

And butterflies -- hundreds of butterflies.

Today I got one of my sons and his girl friend to go with me to Butterfly World. From the first minute they were enchanted by this place. My son took over 200 digital photos. When it was time to leave, it was like pulling teeth.

It made me wonder, how many times do we fail to try something new or different? Wonderful opportunities are all around us, and we let them pass us by.

At least I got one son to go to Butterfly World. For the rest, it remains a lost opportunity they could be enjoying.

I wonder how many opportunities for joy and beauty I have let pass by?

Friday, January 13, 2006


Young men with nothing better to do have taken baseball bats and attacked homeless men in the area. At 1 AM, 2 AM and 4 AM, this small group picked out men whom they thought would not or could not fight back.

One is now dead.

I have no clue why people would do this, but I do often sense people's anger toward the homeless. There is resentment toward them. There is fear of homeless people.

Annette came into my office one day. She was well dressed and well mannered. She was obviously well educated. She and her 5th grade son were homeless. Her husband had beaten her one too many times, so she took a few belongings and she and her son drove away. They lived in their car. It is hard to find a homeless shelter or a battered-women's shelter to take in a woman with a 10 year old boy.

We finally found a shelter she didn't mind staying in. We helped her get interviews and eventually she found a job. It's been a long time since they had to sleep in the car.

Bonnie and her husband Chuck were living in an apartment when I first met them. They were both struggling with drug addiction -- especially Chuck. By the time I baptized their child, they were homeless. Bonnie sometimes earned extra money through prostitution. The last time I saw Chuck was on a Sunday morning. We had a guest preacher and during the sermon I watched him stumble into the Sanctuary and sit on the back pew. When the preacher asked a rhetorical question, Chuck got up and shouted out an answer, "The meek shall inherit the earth." It was a nice Bible verse, but had nothing to do with the question.

The preacher continued his sermon and Chuck decided it was time to leave. He walked to the narthex and came to a sudden stop. I knew what was going through his mind. There were double doors and I think he was just sober enough to understand he was just drunk enough that he might be seeing double. So instead of walking through one of the two doors, he headed for the middle where he hit a wall and collapsed on the floor.

The ushers quietly helped him out the door, while the only ones in the Sanctuary who could see this were me, the choir, and the guest preacher.

I still see Bonnie from time to time.

Danny is not on drugs and rarely drinks. He does not work. He sleeps at the church behind a storage building. He'll show up for a few days, then disappear for weeks, then reappear. He sometimes comes to the early worship service after eating the breakfast we serve on Sunday mornings. For the past several years he has been here every Christmas Eve, attending the services at 7 PM, 9 PM and 11 PM. He doesn't like shelters -- "People there are crazy, and they steal all my stuff." He likes the way he lives and he doesn't want to change it.

Evelyn was homeless for over a year. She was finally able to move into a cheap apartment and the youth and I went over to help her repair some windows. It was an easy task and one of the kids asked why her neighbors wouldn't help. She gave an evasive answer, but the truth is that the neighbors would then expect sexual favors from Evelyn. She was a prostitute and desperately wanted out of that life. She went to school to study legitimate massage therapy, was certified and employed. I guess that was employment that was too close to her previous work. She was arrested and the last I saw of her was when she came to the church to do community service. It's hard to get a better life -- it looks easy when we look from the outside, but it's not.

Mario lived on the streets seeking to stay below everyone's radar. He paid for a boat ride to America, arriving illegally from Haiti. I've been to Haiti and it is a terrible place. Living on the streets in Miami is better than living in the average Haitian home. Eventually INS caught up with him and he was sent back to Haiti. Had he been from Cuba, the moment his foot touched dry land he would have been allowed entry into this country. Being Haitian, he was sent back.

Yolanda writes or calls me from time to time to tell me how grateful she is for what the church and I did for her. She was homeless and definitely did not want to stay that way. At one point she was living in a small, but upscale apartment, with 12 other people. They were all from Colombia and were all well-educated. But they had come to this country for a new start. Yolanda eventually found it.

The only one who prompted a call to the police was a nameless man who came to the church looking for food. My secretary and I went into the food bank and filled up a bag for him. He started hitting on me, grabbing at my crotch. I was able to fend him off, but the guy was so high on drugs there was no way to reason with him. I told the secretary to call the police and they came and drove him away -- no charges were filed and I haven't seen him since. It is the kind of thing that invites jokes, but I never found it funny and the secretary never made light of it.

Some homeless are dangerous.

Some are not.

Some homeless are drug addicts.

Some are not.

Some are drunks.

Some are not.

Some are prostitutes.

Some are not.

In the area, a few young people took baseball bats and beat homeless men. Their attacks were at 1 AM, 2 AM and 4 AM.

One man died.

Homeless people are many things, but they are first and foremost people.

One homeless person might stink.

One homeless person might be a bit crazy.

One homeless person might be drunk.

One homeless person might reject help.

But none of them deserved to be beaten by a stranger to the point of death.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

King Tut

So let me get this straight -- I finally figure out how to post pictures on this blog, and the first interesting place I go to won't let me take pictures?

Well, at least I can show you the photo of the ticket which clearly says, "No cameras allowed."

My family and I went to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale with the Seniors group. It was very difficult for some of the members -- we bought tickets in advance and had a time to be at the museum. Then we stood in line for an hour -- think Disneyworld lines, twisting and turning. Then the tour took 90 minutes. Some of the members gave up and walked a bit faster and met us at a restaurant in the area.

Difficulty aside, we all loved the day.

These artifacts are centuries old -- for an American where the Alamo is pretty darned old, 3000 years is a bit difficult to comprehend.

The art work of the craftsmen is wonderful. Seeing these things in person you can appreciate the tiny details. The colors of these items remains so vivid!

If you have a chance to go -- do it. It is in South Florida until April 23rd, then it heads to Chicago, Philadelphia, and finally London. For more information, go to

Monday, January 09, 2006


I am haunted by the woman's story.

I never met her, and even now cannot remember her name.

She was killed by her husband, a police officer. They were married in a Las Vegas wedding five weeks earlier. When she returned from her honeymoon, her body was covered with bruises. She admitted to her family that her husband was abusive. Ten days after the wedding, the woman had moved out. Then a few days ago, the husband convinced her to join him for a trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, which she did. They were going to talk about their relationship.

The woman left her parents' home at 10:30 AM.

At 3:30 PM, she called her mother and asked for help to get home.

Ten minutes later, the parents were in the car and beginning a 3 to 4 hour trip.

But even then it was too late. Five minutes after making the call, the woman had been killed by her husband, who then put the gun to his head and took his own life.

I did the woman's funeral because her mother's next door neighbor attends our church on rare occasions.

I happened to come across the "pastor's card" today -- when we do funerals, the funeral home gives the pastor a nice little card. It has the name of the person who died, lists some relatives, and gives a little bit of other information.

I'm saddened by the memory of this woman's life.

I'm saddened by the tragedy of her death.

I'm saddened that here was a valuable human being and for the life of me I cannot remember her name.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

My first blog photo

I've never posted a photo on my blog, and I thought it was time for me to give it a try.

I attended a conference in the local area this week -- it was about how the church should stand up against torture.

In the photo, you see several symbols.

These are symbols Rick Ufford-Chase brought to the conference, No2Torture. One is a basket -- for our love offering to reimburse two churches in the area that provided us with food and lodging for our conference.

There is a cup -- something Rick picked up from his trip to the Congo -- where people have suffered from oppression and violence. The brown covered Bible is Ricks, which he uses when he travels. The cross comes from Costa Rica, where the people know a lot about torture and violence. The ornament is Mary and the Christ Child, and comes from Bethlehem -- Christ was tortured before his death. The Bible at the bottom of the photo was brought to the conference by a chaplain, who served to remind us that while we are meeting to discuss our nation's policies on torture, we also need to be supportive of our military members. All of these were placed on a Prayer Shawl. Rick said he had been unaware of how people knitted these as a prayer discipline, until recently when someone gave him one to give to the victims of Katrina. After that, he began to receive many such shawls.

Passion -- No2Torture -- and the Book of Daniel

Rick, the moderator of the national level of our denomination, is a great guy.

I am continually impressed by this man. He is a true Christian and a wonderful leader and healer.

I saw him at a conference here in South Florida -- No2Torture.

One of the introductory remarks he made was about how Christians should be passionate. This is not an exact quote -- but it is close.

"In the church we should talk from our passion. In the church we often moderate passion. If you moderate your views, I'll moderate my views. Then we can just meet in the middle and get along."

Rick said we should remain passionate about the things we believe -- but instead of everyone moderating their views to passionless positions, we should be more respectful of one another.

Hopefully I'll write about some of the conference issues later.

On another topic -- or maybe on the same topic -- I missed the new NBC show, "The Book of Daniel." Thankfully there is the VCR! I found it crowded with efforts to establish all too quickly everyone's character. There were some "balony factors" you just have to accept (would any vestry, session or board NOT call the police when they find a few millions missing from the church school fund?).

All in all, I loved it. I thought it was a great show. Ministers are human, and while everyone knows that, it seems we prefer to pretend they (we) are not human. I also loved the way Jesus was portrayed. I found Him the most real of all.

I've received tons of email from folks asking me to join the petition to have this show removed from the NBC line-up. Those people do feel passionate. OK -- I can live with that. I hope they live with the fact that I really liked the show and look forward to more to come.