Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No Church Today Part 2

I just remembered the most bizarre church experience I have ever had in my life.  I was newly married and living in Philadelphia with my wife.  We went to a church that was yards away from where we lived.  It was summer time and it was warm.  Being Lutheran we sat in the back pew.  We noticed a girl eating an ice cream cone in the pew in front of us.  A bit unorthodox, but I guess the mom figured it would keep the girl occupied and quiet.  Not what I would have done as growing up Lutheran we were taught that the sanctuary was a holy place and we were indeed in the presence of the Lord.  So we were very reverent once we entered into the sanctuary.

Well, I kept looking at this girl lapping at her cone when I heard someone behind us start speaking.  Now as I said we were in the last pew in the back so the dude speaking was standing pretty much in the door way.  "I have a letter here!" the voice said.  I spun around to see that it was a US Postal carrier.  That's right it was the postman! On a Sunday!? When has that ever happened before?  Not to mention that he came in during the Sermon portion of the service.  At first I thought he was part of the sermon as some pastors have wacky interactive sermons to drive home a point.  I immediately thought that the postman was going to say something like, "God sent me to give you this Word from Him," or some such illustration.  However, I soon realized by the look on the pastor's face that this was not part of the service.

I then started to think how on God's green earth could this letter-carrier barge into a church service like he was annoyed that we didn't stop what we were doing to welcome him.  He really had that attitude as if to say, "I don't care that you are playing church, I have a letter to deliver and nothing is going to stop me not even God Himself!"  Well an usher stepped forward and grabbed the letter, signed something and then the mailman left.  All the time that this is was going on the ice cream eater in front off us was just lapping away like this was all some sort of liturgical dinner theater.  I wanted to say to the mother at this point, "You know that ice cream is going to spoil her Lord's Supper and she's not going to have room for the Body of Christ!" With the goings on I kind of felt that the comment would have fit right in with the service, but I refrained.

Well after all of the excitement church was uneventful, which was sad as I was expecting the pastor to work all of that into the service, but he stuck to his sermon which was a bit dry. Anyway, the service was memorable if not the sermon.
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Church Today

This past Sunday the church that I attend canceled service.  Well actually the cancellation came on Saturday but the fact is that there was no service Sunday.  The reason was due to a septic overflow problem in the lone bathroom in the building.  There had been a lot of rain last week and the septic backed up and came up through the toilet and flooded the basement.  There was really no way to have church with no bathroom, a flooded basement and the nursery school located in that same basement.  So the call was made to cancel our church service for that day.

I have no problem with that call as it was the right one to make and I don't believe that God was offended nor do I believe that His wrath will be visited upon New Hope Fellowship.  The pastor made the right call.  This event called to mind some other interesting events that I have experienced on a Sunday as a former pastor. 

Back in the day when I was a preacher man I had the blessed opportunity the lead worship services every Sunday for almost a decade.  It was what I believe I was created to do, be a pastor that is.  I loved my job and couldn't believe that I actually got paid for doing what I did.  Not to be punny but I was in heaven.

At my first congregation, in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York, I learned a lot about church management and the goings on of how to maintain the building in which we worshiped, sang, ate, communed, married, buried, confirmed, laughed, wept, hugged, supported, basically the building in which we as a body in Christ LIVED.  Well at that church we used to get our oil deliveries for our furnace on the first and third Fridays of the month.  Well one month in January there were 5 weekends and because of that there was a loophole in our oil delivery process.  You see by the fifth Sunday our oil tank was empty and no one had thought to get an extra delivery for that weekend. 

So, here we were at the beginning of our two Sunday services wondering why the heat wasn't coming on.  We debated whether we should cancel services or not for that day.  We decided to hold services but we had everyone huddled together near the front of the sanctuary while someone put in a call to the oil company for an emergency delivery.  Now I am Lutheran and for Lutherans to huddle together, let alone towards the front of the sanctuary is a miracle in itself. 

It was my Sunday to preach and there I was with an overcoat on over my vestments, gloves on hands, hat on head, with my breath clearly visible as I preached.  At one point during my sermon I just started to laugh at the surreality of it all.  As I broke into a laugh the congregation did too and it was a pretty funny moment. 

The oil truck did show up in time for the second service to have some warmth emanating from the floorboard heaters.  It was kind of neat when all was said and done.

There was another time in that congregation and with me preaching when something not so amusing happened.  I remember it as clear as yesterday.  I had just started to preach when I notice an elderly gentleman seated on the left side pews, to my absolute right, slump down in his seat.  The people around him jumped to his aid and this sweet elderly man named George just past out.  We thought he was having a heart attack (which it wasn't) and the congregation sprang into action.  We were blessed to have a lot of nurses in our congregation and there were no less than five there that morning.  We let them do their thing as someone called 911.

So there I was thinking, "What do I do now?" as there was a grave concern on everyone's mind as to what was going on with George.  The next thing I knew I said in a loud voice, "Let us pray," and we prayed for George as the ambulance was en-route.  They were there in a matter of minutes and they took George off to the hospital. The congregation settled down and in the aftermath I realized that I was still at the beginning of my sermon which did not seem to fit anymore.  I have to admit I was a bit a shaken by it all, though I didn't want it to show on my face.  So I just admitted that the sermon was not pertinent to what happened and I then ad-libbed a sermon based on ROMANS 12:4-6  on how we were all connected in the body of Christ and how we all need each other and our church showed it that morning.  I guess that there are times when God wants us to hear what HE decides should be preached each Sunday.  All in all things turned out well for George who was back in his pew the next week and the church was a little closer for the experience.

Those were just a couple of things that came to mind due to this past Sunday.  Every Sunday is unique, but it seems that some Sundays are more unique than others.  The thing to remember is that God is there through it all and it is He who sets things right.

If I remember more extraordinary Sundays I will be sure to share them with you. Until then, go to church and give God thanks for your life.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Perimeter Guy

I am a watcher of people. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I love it because I find people fascinating in so many different ways. I used to love to go to the airports, when picking up a family member or friend, and sit at the gates and just listen to the conversations of the travelers and see the goings on there. Of course you can't get that close anymore unless you are traveling due to the changes brought about after 9/11. I think the thing that fascinates me is that I have a way of doing things, as we all do, and when I see someone go about something I would do but in a different manner it makes me wonder why. I think to myself, "What is going on inside that person's mind?"

There is a guy at work, whom I will refer to as The Perimeter Guy (TPG), who fascinates the bejeepers out of me. He is methodical in all that he does as if it is done by a set plan. I would not call him anal retentive, but rather I would call him dedicated to his game plan-from which he does not deviate.

Let me continue by saying I like the guy a lot. He is a decent man and once you get to know him a little bit you realize that he has a whole hosts of stories to tell that are rich and full of life. I like the fact that our worlds come together for 48 hours every other 4 days as his role in my world has served to enrich it, however minor it is. I dig people like him because I have always been drawn to those on the edges who are full of life in their own way.

TPG never misses work, yet always and I do mean always turns down overtime. I asked him why and he says that he likes his time off with his family and I respect that greatly. He is at work a half an hour before it starts and sits in his mini-van and reads. At a quarter to the hour he gets out of his vehicle (or if you from the South it is veHICle) and walks along the walls of the building towards the front door. He could walk directly to the front door in straight line, but he literally hugs the walls to the door. He walks along one until it dead ends into another and then turns right and hugs it until he gets to the door. Very interesting, to me at least.

At work we are allowed 5 breaks throughout the night, each about 30 minutes long. Kind of nice since they are paid breaks. Everyone takes break in one of two break rooms or, when the weather is nice, outside under a gazebo-unless you are a smoker then you are out there no matter the whether sucking down your nicotine while getting drenched or freezing your keister off.

TPG never takes a break other than to go to a break room and take three drinks from three different beverages found in his lunch bag. Then he grabs a handful of trail mix, downs that and heads back to work. He does all of this while standing, mind you. He leaves the break room with a twirl-literally-as he walks through the door and then heads downstairs to the plant floor. However, he doesn't walk straight back to his area of responsibility. He walks along the path for the forklifts which has him walking 10 yards then a hard left and then 15 yards more. Fascinating.

Most people notice his idiosyncrasies but have never asked him about it. Well I did one day, mainly the question was about what he drinks and why the variety. He told me that they are filled with vitamins and the concoctions are made but him at home. He says he doesn't want to sit as he may tire out and he likes to keep moving. And move he does!

He is a blur around his machine at the end of the night with all of his sweeping and cleaning. And man is it clean. I have even seen him on his hands and knees picking up tiny pieces of aluminum so as to have the place spotless for the next shift. The guy cares about what he does and leaving a small footprint behind him.

And that is why he is really on the Perimeter. It is because there are not many like him who do there job so methodically. I don't know whether or not his numbers are better than other mechanics but he is interesting to watch.

He is also on the Perimeter because he is so different from other people at work. If you are going to talk with him you have to make the first move. He doesn't say much and most of what he says is work related. There are those at work who are offended by that because they feel that he is acting like he is better than them. I believe that it is just their insecurities about themselves that make them feel that way. I am not offended by his actions or inactions. If he wants to be quiet and focus only on work then it is fine with me. I will give him his space and continue to be fascinated. And I will be thankful that he is there, making my night a little more interesting.

Just an observation of a man who is a small part of my world. And in that way I guess I am on the perimeter looking in at somebody's life. Fascinating!

Be Good, But Not Boring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Bike and Me

Just got back from a very short bike ride, only 6 miles, but it was a bike ride nonetheless. It felt outstanding to be back in the saddle. I am definitely not in the shape I was two years ago when I was daily riding at least 30 miles. However, I vow to work my way back up to that standard as I work my way back into shape.

I am feeling a bit high from the ride and from the fact that I have overcome my aversion to riding since I was hit by that car in June of 2006. What a great feeling! Not the getting hit by a car part. I meant the riding my bike again.

I am looking forward to a 10 miler tomorrow.


26 Years Ago Today

Mark A. Mellor
Beloved Son, Cherished Friend, Devoted Brother

It was 26 years ago today, April 2nd, that I was involved in a car accident that eventually took the life of my best friend, Mark A. Mellor. He died of a ruptured aorta in the early hours of April 3. He died far too young and left a hole in many peoples lives that will never be filled but has gradually, over time, grown smaller and yet it will never completely heal.

I write this because the world lost a great man, or at least the potential for a great man, on that horrible night. Mark had promise and potential and many of us believed that he would be a top rate pitcher in the Major Leagues. I knew he would be a fine man, devoted husband, and loving father based on how he treated the people around him including me.

I met Mark in 2nd grade when my family moved into his neighborhood. From that point on we were inseparable. Our neighborhood was a close knit community that looked after our own. It is, sadly, a neighborhood that doesn't seem to exist anywhere anymore.

Mark and I spent the days playing War, Chase, Stickball, Baseball, Football, you name and we played it. We spent a ton of time in each others homes and he was as much a brother to me as I was to him and our parents looked at us as another son for each.

Mark came to my aid whenever I was in a fight with someone and I came to his when he was in a scrape himself. Before we had a license to drive a car we either biked or walked where ever we needed to go and as such we would make up games and songs as we went along. It was always a good time when we were together.

I remember hearing my father's words that April 3rd as I lay in a hospital bed after the accident. I asked him how was Mark. "Marky didn't make it," was his reply through tears streaming down his face. Those were the harshest words I have ever heard. I cried, as we all did, and then I set my mind on the long road back to complete recovery.

There was a time when I used to think about Mark every day and dream about him every night. I feel guilty that I don't think of him as much, but my love for him has never died. Every April 2nd I have made it a custom to hoist a cold one in his honor and to tell those around of the greatest guy they would never get to me. The irony in the toast is that I never drank back then but Mark loved a beer or two. I have since grown fond of the drink. I am sure that he would laugh at the fact.

I write this so that you will know of him, just a little bit at least. And I write it to implore you to tell those around you how much you love them and what they mean to you. We are only here for a twinkling moment and then we are gone. Our life is God's gift to us and what we make of it is our gift to Him. Live a life without regret and live it to the fullest. Live a Life of Love!

Forward, Upward, and Onward

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Content of Character

Some damage took place at work in my area of responsibility this past week. I cannot say yes or no as to whether or not it was my fault. The thing is that if I do cause some damage to our product I get it taken care of immediately as is our standard operating procedure. One of the plant big wigs was making a big deal out of it and my supervisor called me in to speak to me about it. The Supe is a nice guy whom I respect a lot and he realized that there was no way to prove that the damage was my fault as other workers were in during the day and could have caused the problem.

Well the plant big wig would not let it die this week and wanted me to have an Oral Write Up about it. Oral Write up means that I sign a piece of paper that says that I was given an oral warning about the damage. Well I am a member of a union and there was a big deal about it because no one could prove if I did the damage or not, even my Supe thought there was a witch hunt going on. I told him that I may have done the damage without knowing but the amount of damage was beyond me to not notice during a 12 hour shift. He knows that I am a good worker and that I take pride in what I do so after the union stepped in it was decided to get the plant big wig together with me, a union rep, and another worker who does the same exact thing that I do and get to the bottom of all of this hoopla.

I am not worried at all about the outcome as I have a reputation for doing my job and that well. The thing that blew me away about all of this was my fellow worker Jon. He went into the supervisor and said that if he was going to write me up for the damage then they were going to have to write him up to as he helped me a bit that night. He said that it was not fair to single me out and that since we work together we will take the blame together. I was touched that he would take the blame when he clearly didn't have to at all.

I talked to him about this and asked why he stepped up like that and he said, "We're a team and your my brother. We look out for our own, and I got your back." I literally was awestruck and saw such character in this guy who a year ago I thought was a character. Man was I clearly wrong about him then. He showed me that there is still a thing called honor and loyalty out there. Ever since he started working on my crew back in January I was amazed at how much of a team player he is and I really found that working with him made a huge difference in how I viewed work.

I am honored to know and work with someone like Jon who has gone through a tremendous amount of anguish and suffering this past month with a sickness in the family and the death of a close friend. He could have easily put the focus on him and what he was and is going through but he didn't. He could have been like many out there who live as if they have a monopoly on human suffering but he has chosen not to play the martyr. He is a good kid and I will make damn sure that I will be there for him whenever the need arises. His parents raised him well!

Be a Jon to those around you and see how much richer you make their lives!

Be Good,