Mugs of abundance

The following is a work of fiction. It is the first installment of many and may at some point cease to exist on this blog and take up residence elsewhere. Any resemblance to people living and or not living is just because sometimes the people I meet are incredibly more interesting than the people who hang around in my head. I try to be nice to the ones who have inspired me. Sure, some of them are pretty poorly hidden, but “Cary” is not me. Trust me. We almost share a calling, but even there things are different.

 

The ancient experienced hands of the retired nurse placed the ceramic mugs with great care on the shelves in the cupboard. An occasional clink, as one mug hit another, was all the new occupant was expecting to hear. There had not been much chit-chat between the volunteer laborer and the new resident. But the music was broken by lyrics he didn’t expect. “You think you have enough coffee mugs, pastor? Looks to me that you could serve a whole bunch of people with all these mugs. How many of you drink coffee?”

“Just two of us.” he said. “It does seem as if we’ve picked up a few extra along the way, though. Guess we like our mugs.”

“Hmph. Guess you do.” was the end of the song. But the music continued.

And that was two churches ago for the preacher. Long before others in the house began drinking coffee and adding to the plethora of caffeine dispensers that crowded the cabinet in their newest, smaller parsonage. He was quite certain that somewhere in the maze of boxes yet unopened there was a treasure trove of mugs aching to be used, long over their own sense of caffeine withdrawal and simply settled in the darkness of their moving paper rest home.

But the four were there.

Mugs

There was the one he had since his time in seminary, the last of a group of four that he purchased from the Baptist House at Duke Divinity. Cary always thought it a bit ironic that one of his most cherished possessions from his days at a United Methodist seminary was a Baptist mug. And yet, every Wednesday and every Sunday, this was the one that made the trip from cabinet to Kuerig. Well, truth be told, it would sometimes come straight out of the dishwasher and make its way to the coffee machine. But on Sundays and Wednesday, Cary needed the reminder that the mug brought with it.

It wasn’t a reminder of all that he has learned. It wasn’t a reminder of his Master of Divinity degree. It wasn’t even a reminder of particular people or places. He used that mug to remind him that truth be told, he wasn’t even close to having all the answers. On Sunday morning, as he got ready to somehow stand before a congregation and preach, he needed that reminder. He was just happy that it only took a mug and not a two-by-four upside his head. And sure, he used it on Wednesdays too as a reminder that when he taught Bible Study, the Bible was usually going to teach him more than he could manage to squeeze out in a lesson or two.

And then there was the brother mug. One of his two brothers got him that one, but truthfully he couldn’t remember which one. Didn’t matter much. He used Brother one day a week to remind himself of them. The three weren’t the best at staying in touch with one another but when the chips were down, they knew that they could count on one another. The mug reminded Cary of them, their differences, their similarities, but especially their connection to one another.  Since the loss of their father, Cary looked forward to the Monday encounter with this mug. He could sip and say a prayer for his brothers. And he needed that grounding as much as he needed the humility he found with the Duke.

He remembered offering the MTSO mug to his buddy, now a Chaplain in the Army, on one of his visits. “What in the world are you doing with a Methodist Theological School of Ohio mug?” was the question Ray asked. Cary shrugged and said, “I got it during a visit of their Course of Study one year. I hope I cleaned it before I filled it. Been sitting on the shelf a long time.”

Truthfully though, this mug got used as much as Duke and more often than Brother. MTSO came out twice a week, typically on Tuesday and Saturday to remind Cary of the two best friends he had in ministry. Ray went to MTSO but his other friend, Ann, went to Candler, or as Cary loved to jokingly call it, “Chandler.” No Candler mug in the mix but it didn’t matter. When he drank his coffee from MTSO he thought of them both, prayed for them both and gave thanks to God that he knew they were always just a call away. MTSO was a good memory mug – laughter from residency, long, late night talks at Annual Conference, and just the memory that these three very different people ended up so close to one another. If someone would have taken wagers on the military haircut Ray and the long haired Cary becoming friends, they would have lost a bundle. It was rocky, but perhaps the rockiness made the friendship that much stronger. Of the three, and sadly there used to be four, but that is a story for another day, Cary is the only one still serving a local church. He acknowledges that the other two do great work for the Kingdom…better work for the revolution that Jesus wishes to bring…than he often manages on his best days.

Friday was the day for the “Brown Mug from North Carolina.” Cary wasn’t sure of the pottery that produced it but it clearly was hand thrown and it was his Friday mug. Given to him by a former Associate Pastor, this mug was Cary’s Sabbath mug. (Yeah, pastors do take a Sabbath day and it ain’t Sunday, that for certain.) Cary uses BMNC because it’s all about grace. The Deacon who gave it to him taught him a lot about receiving grace. They worked well together, but they did so in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her creativity and spirituality helped to keep the church they served very well grounded. Truth be told, Cary wasn’t completely forthright about how bad things were when he brought this Deacon into the mess and that was wrong. And Cary didn’t talk about everything that went on with him while they worked together. It was one of the many wrongs Cary could never make right again. The BMNC was a reminder of that tragic truth of life. More so that despite the wrong, their was peace between Cary and Julia, the Deacon, not because of Cary’s honesty, but due solely to the amazing grace Julia showed.

“It’s a good way to start a Sabbath,” Cary would think. “The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of grace.”

Yeah, there is an abundance of mugs in Cary’s parsonage. Most of them don’t get used by him. There are others in the house who find the other mugs more to their liking. But these four take up six important places in Cary’s life. And they cover six days.

And that leaves Thursday.

Well, you must wait to hear about Thursday because you don’t quite know enough about Cary to understand. You can rest uneasily, though, that there is a mug for Thursday.  And that mug is the only one he loathes to use.

As the Palm Branches Dry…

I haven’t posted in a very long time, but really hope to do so each day of Holy Week this year. This first is a reflection on Palm Sunday, both then and now.

When I heard he was arriving in Jerusalem, I was curious but doubtful. We had heard stories of deliverance our whole lives, knew we were the chosen people of Yahweh, but it was always hard to believe that it would happen again. That was especially true because of the Romans. They terrorized us into submission. Their might and power was everywhere we turned and most of us lived our lives in constant fear – not that something big would happen – but simply that one or two soldiers would get it in their minds that someone needed to pay.

And we paid. Our families paid. Our children paid with their very lives.

So, I was doubtful when I heard rumors that someone who would be our new king was entering Jerusalem. My curiosity was fueled as I heard more stories about him. He had a band of followers. Among them was one we knew fought against the Romans.  This known freedom fighter was the treasurer of the group. I heard that great crowds followed him in the country sides and I knew, I knew that if anyone could save us from the powers that be, it would be someone who brought so many big crowds of people together. It was the only way to overthrow our oppressors.

So I joined the crowd that welcomed him to the city that day.

I expected guards with armor to be beside him. I expected weapons in the hand of every citizen of Jerusalem. I expected royalty.

palm branchBut he came riding a donkey. Children surrounded him. People waved palm branches, not weapons. But still we cried out Hosanna and welcome to the one people said would deliver us. I got caught up in the moment. I got caught up in my dreams for freedom and safety and I joined the crowd in greeting him.

As I look back on that day, I also hear stories of how the one we knew, Judas. Apparently Judas turned him over to the authorities in hopes that this would cause an insurrection. Yes, there was money involved and maybe because of that Judas was said to be his great betrayer. That may be true. It may be.

But I also know that everyone who stood, everyone who gathered to shout hosanna, also betrayed this King. They betrayed him with their expectations. They betrayed him with their desire for safety. They betrayed him with their lust for revenge.

This man, Jesus, came to save us. But he did so by turning the world of power upside down. Where we cried out for power, he gave of himself. Where we cried out for safety, he gave his very life.

They…No, not they, but I…betrayed the very one who would come to save me from myself.

Jesus met his enemy on his journey to Jerusalem. And that enemy is anyone who would make him into what they want rather than allow him and his selflessness to be Lord.

Jesus met his enemy…and the enemy is sometimes the very one who shouts Hosanna!

Unpacking My Suitcase

If you are looking for a reason for a social media fast this Lenten season…

The Words I Have Thus Far...

My name is Erin and I don’t like to be alone.

I felt convicted that maybe I have a problem and its time to start talking about it.

The thought began with a TEDx Talk, “Social Media – Sucking Time or Saving Lives,”  by Kristen Howerton, a marriage and family therapist and professor of psychology at Vanguard University. She explains her traumatic experience with the earthquake in Haiti. During the time, she turned to packing her suitcase to keep herself sane. When it was time to leave Haiti, she found herself with the choice to take her child or her suitcase home with her. This seems like a none issue. Yet, the suitcase had become her lifeline, and for a split second, she couldn’t imagine life without it.

Each of us has our own “suitcase” in life at different times. A suitcase is a thing that distracts us from…

View original post 284 more words

X-Plan: Giving your kids a way out (#xplan)

A good plan… Pass it on.

Bert Fulks

Friends, as most of you know, I get to spend an hour each week with a group of young people going through addiction recovery.  Yes.  Young people.  I’m talking teenagers who are locked away for at least six months as they learn to overcome their addictions.  I’m always humbled and honored to get this time with these beautiful young souls that have been so incredibly assaulted by a world they have yet to understand.  This also comes with the bittersweet knowledge that these kids still have a fighting chance while several of my friends have already had to bury their own children.

Recently I asked these kids a simple question:  “How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?”

They all raised their hands.

Every single…

View original post 789 more words

Eye on the Prize

Recently, I ran across a quote in book I am reading on “pastoral health” titled “The Myth of the Shiska” by Edwin Friedman. (You may recall that I used one of Friedman’s Fables in a previous blog post.) Just so you know, a Shiska is a derogatory Yiddish term for a Gentile woman who seduces a Jewish man into marrying her so that she can take him away from the Jewish faith. Friedman shows that not only is this idea a myth within the Jewish community, it is a myth across all cultures and religions. Marriages happen for lots of reasons, but seldom do United Methodists marry just to get their spouse to give up being a Baptist – or vice versa. Friedman shows that family dynamics have more to say about interracial and interfaith marriages than anything else.

The quote that caught my eye was this one:

“The world would be far better off if, instead of being concerned about our own bodies and other people’s souls, we watched over other people’s bodies and our own souls.”

That is a truly deep thought. I couldn’t help but think of a parable told by another Jewish Rabbi that goes like this:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25 :31-46…Jesus speaking.)

In a very real and concise way Jesus is telling his followers that they MUST pay attention to the condition of the fellow traveler’s “body” in order to be able to minister to Jesus. Looking out for one another is looking out for Jesus.

In our world today, there is a whole lot of discussion going on about caring for some of the least and last in the world. We live in a time when there are more people displaced by war and turmoil in their own countries than any other time in modern history. And we don’t know what to do in order to balance caring for those in need with our own “safety.”

I just hope and pray that we don’t lose sight of what Jesus and this other rabbi are telling us. Looking after the bodies (caring for the safety of others) is a very important indicator of how much we trust Jesus with our own lives and care – in this world and in the world to come.

I know these thoughts aren’t totally complete and I hope they give us something to think about since we are all “Not Quite Home” yet…