Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Long Strange Trip

What I know for certain is that it has been 30 years since I was ordained.  You would think that I could remember the date . . . or that I could look at my ordination certificate (if I knew where I put it) . . . or that the ministerial pension plan would mail me some sort of pin or award for having survived 30 years in the ministry.  But, I can’t . . . all I know with certainty is that I was ordained towards the end of April in 1983 in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.  It was 30 years ago . . . and, as the Grateful Dead sing in their song Truckin’, “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

I believe that God calls all of us to ministry in one shape or form . . . and, I believe that most of us spend our whole lives trying to figure out exactly what that ministry is supposed to be.  At the same time, there are some who are certain that when they hear that call, they know exactly what that ministry is, and they jump into the pool with both feet.  I am not sure that I was one of those sorts of people even though my track record might argue otherwise as I have been pretty much in the pastoral ministry business most of those 30 years.  The stark contrast to that is the fact that I am not really sure that pastoral ministry was where God wanted me . . . I think that God and the congregations that I have served over the span of those years have been patient, kind, and understanding . . . they have put up with a lot.  Because of that, I think I am among that group that is spending a lifetime looking for what ministry is supposed to be for me.

Over the span of 30 years I have served six congregations.  Over that span of time six congregations have survived me and, I have survived them.  It was sort of a mutual survival pact . . . but, for the most part, I think that I served them faithfully and they worked hard to respond in a like manner.  I think that I did okay . . . five of the congregations I served are still in existence . . . one died of old age (actually it was two, but they were a two point charge) and that is the truth.  All of us involved in these ministries, these churches, would say that there were good days, bad days, and a whole lot of days that were pretty average and uneventful.  Through it all we tried to listen to God, respond faithfully, and do the best that we could with what we understood and knew.

Thirty years . . . if you had asked anyone who knew when I graduated high school, they would have told you—first and foremost—that they never imagined me in the ministry.  Second of all, they would have told you that they would have never imagined me doing anything for 30 years—especially the ministry!  I have never gone back to a high school reunion since I graduated, primarily because I don’t think I could handle the shock of all of my classmates looking at me like I was some sort of strange figment of their imaginations—John Keener, a minister!  Sometimes it is better to avoid the stares and just let them think that I drifted off in the sunset on some wild adventure never to come back.

Admittedly, it has been an adventure . . . or a “long strange trip” as the Grateful Dead would say.  Though I have never lived up to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s song, I think I understand the longing that the song is about . . . the longing to come home . . . home where I belong.  Isn’t that what we all really desire . . . to come home, kick off our shoes, and just be . . . be ourselves, be in the moment, be in the presence of those we love and who love us?  Isn’t that what we are all striving for . . . to get home?  Isn’t that why we keep Truckin’?

Yeah, it has been a long strange trip . . . it has had its highs and lows (as the Dead sing, “Sometimes the lights all shining’ on me, other times I can barely see.”) . . . it has had its moments when there was the deepest love shared, and it moments when there was great hurt inflicted . . . there have been friends and mentors . . . and, there have been those who made life a living hell.  Moments when the divine was revealed, and other moments when none of us had a clue where the divine went.  Lots of laughter, lots of tears . . . and, lots of moments when both those I served and I looked at one another and wondered, “Who are these people!”  The past 30 years are the stories and experiences that movies are made of . . . comedy, mostly . . . or dramedy as they call it today (a combination of comedy and drama).

Thirty years . . . that is a long time.  I have been an ordained minister for more than half of my life . . . longer than most of the cars I have ever owned totaled up.  In those 30 years I have been offered one-way tickets to Russia where they need to hear all of the peace and justice crap, as one elder in the church told me.  I have been run through the wringer numerous times with broken promises.  I have endured slanderous statements about my character . . . my faith . . . my life.  I have worked hard to make it financially over the years earning much less than the average member of the congregations I served.  While, at the same, I have received grace and love and support when the darkest hour seemed the worse.  Yeah, it has been one heck of a roller coaster ride.  Pastoral ministry is not for the faint-hearted.

After 30 years, one would think that I have figured it all out . . . know all the answers (or at least where to look for them) . . . know all the shortcuts . . . but, I don’t.  I still regularly stick my foot in my mouth . . . still screw up my references to scripture . . . and, make mistakes that take months to repent from.  After 30 years, one would think that I could put it into cruise and slowly head towards retirement . . . but, that is a pipe dream thanks to our government who keeps raising the age of retirement.  After 30 years, in my mind and heart, I am no closer to the ministry God is calling me towards than I was when I began this long, long journey.

Yet, at the same time, I feel like I am getting closer.  I feel that God is equipping me for whatever ministry that is going to be.  I mean, over 30 years, I have learned some really cool stuff . . . learned some great children’s sermons . . . and, have culled my joke repertoire down to a fine art.  I think God is calling me to be a used car salesperson!  See what I mean about it being a long strange trip!

For a week or two I have been thinking about what it means to hit the milestone of 30 years as an ordained minister.  It means that I have told a lot of stories . . . put more than my share of people to sleep on Sunday mornings . . . married and buried a lot of people . . . sat with a lot of people enduring gut-wrenching crisis . . . laughed a lot, cried a lot, and hae done it with people I loved, and some that I couldn’t stand.  I have written at least ten sermons. Prayed at least twice.  Blessed at least a couple of times.  And, I have survived over a thousand potluck dinners.  What a trip!

I have also been thinking about those people who have been a part of that journey.  I have thought about Paul, who encouraged me towards ministry –-he would be the central figure and I could shine his shoes.  He is no longer in the ministry and here I am 30 years later.  To Bob and Mary who were loving, encouraging, and with me every step of the way through seminary . . . they were my foundation even though I often had doubts about myself.  Even today, they believe in me.  To my wife who has pretty much been with me since the beginning—encouraging me and laughing at me when I really screwed up.  To the many people who have survived my leadership as their pastor over those 30 years—they have more love and grace than anyone could imagine; and, they have more patience than Job . . . and, we all know how patient Job was.  Thank you, one and all.  Thank you for being a part of the “long strange journey” called ministry.  Hey, we all survived!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pain of Growing Old

I am growing older . . . can’t escape the fact.  In less than a month I hit the double nickel.  I will be well established in the later stages of middle age . . . bordering on the age of being (as my children tell me) old.  I always knew that I was going to get old, but what I was not ready for was all the aches and pains that come with it.  Growing old is painful thanks to something called arthritis and its accompanying cronies.  Entering my 55th year I have begun to feel the aches and pains . . . and, well, they hurt!

I guess I should not complain as my aches and pains are minimal at this point.  The joints of my thumbs hurt . . . especially when I am attempting to snub someone.  It is an achy sort of pain that sort of throbs.  The wife tells me that it is arthritis.  Whatever it is . . . it throbs . . . it hurts . . . and, I miss snubbing folks.  The other pain is in my big toe and little toe on my right foot.  It is a weird sort of pain—what other sort of pain would I have—that feels as if those two toes are broken whenever I walk.  But, they are not.  It is just a pain . . . one that I have determined to think is gout.  Yeah, look that one up . . . all I know is that it hurts when I walk.

I do not enjoy pain.  I don’t think most people enjoy pain.  Most of us try to avoid pain any way that we can.  The problem is this: you cannot avoid the pains associated with growing older.  Or so I thought.  Thanks to the latest issue of AARP—The Magazine, I have learned that there are ways that people can fight arthritis . . . in fact, four specific ways.  Wanting to avoid pain, I read the article carefully.

The first suggestion to fight arthritis, according to the magazine, was to enjoy a cocktail.  Research showed that women who had more than three alcoholic drinks a week over a ten year period reduced their arthritis risk by fifty percent.  I’ll drink to that!  Heck, even it doesn’t work, who cares?  Just drink a little more until the pain goes away.  Sounds reasonable to me . . . so, if you see me with a beer in hand, don’t scold me . . . praise me.  Praise me for using a homeopathic remedy for combatting arthritis and its associated pain.

The second suggestion was to avoid soda . . . unless, of course you are using soda to mix your drinks for the first suggestion.  Again, according to research, sugary sodas contribute to weight gain and the progression of arthritis in the knees and other joints, especially in men who drink more than five sodas a week.  My suggestion is, if you are going to drink soda make sure you mix it with alcohol.  Check out suggestion one above and you will understand my thinking on this one.

 Suggestion three, pass on the prime rib.  Whoa!  That one is hitting below the belt, or is it above the belt?  I love my beef.  Beef is a red meat.  Red meat is high in purines.  Purine can increase the risk of inflammatory arthritis—like gout—by five times.  How can something that tastes so good, be so bad for a person?  My toes hurt because I had a Big Mac?  This one has me concerned because it is suggesting that I cut back on my red meat consumption—which would make the wife happy as she keeps reminding me that red meat is bad for me . . . bad for my heart . . . and, apparently, for my toes.  I think I will keep limping along through life.

The last suggestion, number four, states that eating cherries can lower the risk of gout attacks.  In a study, people who ate 10 to 12 cherries over two days had a 35 percent lower risk of flare-ups.  I can handle this one.  I like cherries . . . especially when they are put in my cocktails.  I could handle this one if it makes my toes quit hurting.

In fact, I have determined that I could probably do numbers one, two, and four all at the same time.  All I would have to do is to make a cocktail using a soda with a cherry in it . . . at least three times a week.  Ol’ Arthritis would be seen heading for the hills if I did this . . . I would be feeling no pain.  Shoot, I could handle that.

With this sort of advice, who say growing old has to be painful . . . or boring?  I could get used to this . . . no pain . . . past the cocktails, my gout is acting up!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Springtime in Montana

It is the third week of April.  The calendar said that we entered the season of Spring a little while ago . . . calendars don’t lie.  The groundhog gave up the ghost long ago . . . we are well beyond the predicted date for Spring.  And, yet, I look out the window as I write this and I see SNOW!  Lots of snow!  Like, three inches of snow . . . and, it is supposed to snow all night!  Welcome to Springtime in Montana!

Now, I should not complain as this is probably all my fault for having written a blog way back in January lamenting our lack of snow in Montana.  I complained that the northeast and east was getting all of our snow.  I guess God heard my complaint and has gone about the business of rectifying the problem.  It has now snow four out of the past seven days . . . who says God doesn’t answer prayer?  Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?  Just come to Montana for the springtime!

I will admit, I am tired of cleaning my car off every morning to go into the big city to work.  The two dogs, dachshunds, are tired of plowing through the snow in order to take a leak . . . cold bellies are not conducive to peeing in the snow.  And, I can’t blame them as I do not even like peeing in the snow . . . even though, long ago, I used to be able to write my name in the snow . . . but that got old quick—around February or so.  I am tired of snow!  I think most Montanans are . . .

Though most of us Montanans—except those around the ski slopes—are tired of the snow, we are thankful for whatever moisture we get.  The snow, as moisture-less as it is, is helping us alleviate our drought problems.  It is adding moisture to the earth that is desperately in need of it.  Last summer was a bad year for fires in Montana . . . Colorado got the publicity even though Montana had more fires and acres burnt.  So, most of us are mumbling under our breath, grinning, and bearing the snow.

Yet, at the same time, we are longing for Spring . . . those two days that happen between the cold of winter and the heat of summer.  Yeah, I know, it will happen, but I don’t want to miss it.  I thought we had it the other day, but I blinked and the snow started falling again.  It has been confusing for the bears.  The bears have been coming out of hibernation and discovering that the weather is worse than when they went to sleep.  Bears waking up in the Spring are hungry bears . . . hungry bears can find no food in the snow . . . this causes hungry bears to migrate to where the food is . . . namely garbage cans in the nearby towns.  Garbage cans are like a buffet for bears . . . pop the lid and help yourself!  There has been a rumor that a bear has already been spotting in our fine town . . . it ain’t even May yet!

Yes, it is the third week of April.  Snow is falling.  I’d gripe some more, but I need to go out and clean my car off.  Come to Montana in April they said . . . obviously they had never been to Montana in April.

For a Moment . . . Hope

For a moment there was hope.  The title of the MSN.com article proclaimed: “Why Do Fat Guys Live Longer?”  According to the research of the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control overweight men—and their mildly obese buddies—are likely to outlive skinnier guys.  That is what their research showed after examining 97 studies that tracked body mass and morbidity states on nearly three million people of all ages.  Through their research it was discovered that there is a “window” in the body mass index (BMI) that actually had the overweight people outliving the normal-weight people . . . that BMI was ranging from 25 to 29.5.  Also, though not to the same degree, those with BMIs in the 30 to 34.5 range were slightly more likely to dodge the grim reaper’s scythe.

To a guy who caught his Alfred Hitchcock profile in the mirror the other day that sounded like good news.  It gave me hope.  Lately, as the weather ever so slowly changes to warmer (and more body exposure) temperatures, I have been contemplating the need to shed a few of those winter pounds that I have been expertly hiding under sweaters and sweat shirts.  That contemplation included the ideas of dieting and exercise . . . sounds vaguely like something my doctor suggested.  But that sounds like work . . . hard work . . . real, hard work.  The article gave me hope.  Fat guys outlive skinny guys, and I am leaning more towards the fat guy side than the skinning guy side!

Researchers are not really sure why this happens . . . not sure why fat guys outlive skinny guys.  It just happens.  One reason, but not certain, is that overweight people have a tendency to visit their doctors more often with health concerns.  That is where all my concern started—with the doctor telling me that it would be good for me to lose a little weight and to exercise more.  Ouch!

So, when I saw this article I was nearly brought to tears . . . God does answer prayers!  Hope abounded and I saw myself jiggling with the good news!  Hey, I only have to pack on a couple of more pounds . . . okay, about thirty more . . . and, I will have hit the magic window.  Then I read the rest of the article.  Talk about a downer!

It was strongly discouraged of taking the route of fatness to happiness and longer life.  Fat is not good for anyone . . . especially those of us entering into the so-called golden years.  The worse fat, according to the article, is abdominal fat . . . you know, the Alfred Hitchcock profile sort of fat.  They list off quite an array of health problems associated with this sort of fat, among them not being able to see one’s toes.  I assure you, I can still see my toes.  And, no, the dogs do not hang out in the shade cast by my southern hemisphere!

I don’t know who it was who instilled in my mind that I have to read articles from start to finish . . . curse that individual!  If I had stopped at the beginning, there would still be hope.  But, now, it is gone . . . so, I am back to where I was before.  I am needing to lose some weight, watch my diet, and exercise.  My body cringes whenever I think about it . . . it moans in anticipation of what is to come.  Darn those researchers . . . darn those cheese burgers . . . darn those moments when one helping is not enough! 

For a moment, carrying the Alfred Hitchcock profile gave me hope.  For a moment I rejoiced in the Dunlop around my mid-section.  For a moment I welcomed the Buddha look.  But hope is sometimes a fleeting thing . . . here not, gone tomorrow.  Oh well, I guess I should put the bag of chips away . . . darn skinny people.  They ruin it for the rest of us!